As we rush through the 21st Century with its promise of a brighter digital future, there are dangers that come with the use of technology. Cyberbullying is one of those dangers–it’s become increasingly common as technology advances, with children and teens among its primary victims. But what exactly is cyberbullying, and how can parents protect their kids? Let’s take a closer look at the growing phenomenon of cyberbullying, how to identify it, and how parents can best intervene to protect their kids.
The Dangers of Cyberbullying for Children
Cyberbullying is especially dangerous for children. Cyberbullying can have a profoundly negative effect on their lives, from physical and mental harms to difficulties at school or decreased self-esteem. The psychological impact of cyberbullying can be severe, with victims often feeling scared, sad, lonely, embarrassed or helpless. In extreme cases, it can even increase the risk of suicide.
Some may argue that cyberbullying is not as big of a problem as popularly thought. They might suggest that because it takes place in cyberspace rather than face-to-face interactions, individuals are less susceptible to the psychological impacts of cyberbullying. Further research has found evidence suggesting that this may actually not be the case — in fact, cyberbullying has been connected to levels of anxiety and depression symptoms similar to those associated with offline bullying (Spitzer et al., 2019).
- A study from 2019 found that 43% of teenagers have experienced cyberbullying in some form.
- According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, approximately 20% of adolescents have admitted to perpetrating cyberbullying behaviors.
- In a 2020 survey conducted by The National Center for Health Research, 28% of teens reported being more anxious or depressed due to bullying and harassment on social media.
Cyberbullying can have severe physical, mental, and emotional effects on children including decreased self-esteem, fear, sadness, loneliness, embarrassment and helplessness. Some may debate the severity of such impacts in digital environments; however research has suggested that the psychological impacts are similar to those online and offline. To best protect our children from bullying, adults and peers must recognize the danger it poses and take steps to address and prevent such instances.
Impacts on Mental Health of Victims & Bystanders
When it comes to cyberbullying, one of the most concerning impacts is the damage it causes to victims’ and bystanders’ mental health. The stigma associated with being bullied can cause immense emotional consequences such as anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, difficulty sleeping, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. Research suggests that mental health problems are much more likely to persist into adulthood for victims of cyberbullying than those who were only involved in other forms of bullying as children.
Bystanders can suffer from these effects as well, especially if they don’t intervene or support the victim in any way. While some may argue that being a bystander provides a sense of comfort for victims, perpetuating silence in the face of online harassment can lead to further isolation and feelings of shame for those affected by cyberbullying. The psychological effects outlined above are real dangers associated with cyberbullying, and should not be taken lightly by parents or educators when teaching kids about internet safety.
How Technology Facilitates Cyberbullying
As we have discussed the mental health impacts that cyberbullying can cause in its victims and bystanders, it is also important to consider how technology facilitates such attacks. While it may seem like technology provides these youth with a platform to build connection and community with others, it can also provide them with a way to harass others without ever having to leave their homes. Ironically, social networking sites, apps and other forms of digital communication are some of the most common sources of facilitation for cyberbullying.
Social media allows content and posts from bullies to be disseminated faster than ever before, making it increasingly difficult for victim’s voices to be heard over their attacker’s. Since many platforms allow for anonymous messaging and profiles, it’s becoming much more difficult for victims to know who is behind the attack and seek help or report their abuser. This makes attacking victims easier as the inflictor of harm faces little consequence.
Most concerningly, studies have found that a vast majority of cyberbullying attacks aren’t blocked by various online privacy and safety settings. So even if parents are able to set up parental control tools on their children’s devices or accounts, it appears that it won’t necessarily protect kids from abuse. Although technology was designed to make it easier for kids to connect with one another, access information and resources, this same facilitative power is being used for negative ends too.
 Source (Dzieciol & Romanowiczz).
Platforms Used for Bullying Attacks
Although technology enables the spread of cyberbullying, it is important to mention the platforms that such attacks take place. Cyberbullying attacks happen via multiple platforms and may be difficult to contain as they are always accessible in some way. Social media platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat, have often been pre-empted when talking about cyberbullying incidents as they are most frequently used. Messaging apps like Whatsapp and Telegram have been increasingly used for such abuses as there are fewer restrictions and private messaging ensures embarrassment or humiliation can remain anonymous from public view.
Gaming and streaming platforms such as Twitch and Xbox Live serve up a variety of avenues for online bullies to target young people, particularly with profanity-ridden chat rooms and voice chat capabilities. With high levels of engagement, often amongst strangers operating under aliases, these open environments can become hostile quickly without clear moderation or swift actioning when reports are filed.
Despite there being varying levels of protection and security on individual platforms as well as general terms of service policies, evidence suggests that many cases go unnoticed or hidden when complaints are lodged. As a result parents need to stay vigilant in their ability to restrict their children’s access to all manner of digital tools, including devices that allow access to any form of communication in both physical and virtual spaces.
The Consequences of Cyberbullying Attacks
After delving into some of the most common platforms used for cyberbullying attacks, it is important to understand that being cyberbullied can have lasting consequences for all parties involved. For victims, the psychological and physical effects of bullying can be severe and long-lasting. This can include low self-esteem, depression and even suicidal thoughts. A recent survey found that more than one million high school students reported considering suicide in the past year due to cyberbullying.
When perpetrators cyberbully others, they not only damage the mental wellbeing of their targets, but leave themselves vulnerable to criminal charges as well. Depending on the jurisdiction, certain types of online harassment or cyberbullying may be considered a crime under existing hate speech laws or other anti-discrimination statutes. If young bullies are not careful with their online behavior, they could end up facing serious legal problems later on in life.
Potential Legal Implications for Offenders
The potential legal implications for offenders of cyberbullying can vary from state to state, but experts suggest that if the offense is considered severe, strong preventive measures must be taken. In most jurisdictions, there are laws in place that make it illegal to agitate, harass or otherwise bully someone via the internet. Some cyberbullying offenses may be prosecuted under criminal harassment laws even if the material posted does not contain a direct threat.
When dealt with in court, punishment for online bullying relies largely on existing laws that often involve fine or jail time. Some cyberbullies may even face civil suits from those they have wronged and be held financially liable for their actions.
In 2006, U.S. Congress passed the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA), which requires all public schools receiving E-rate funding to monitor and filter student access to inappropriate websites. This act also prohibits use of predatory technology such as cyberstalking and malicious hacking against minors by adults.
Some argue that these legal consequences can have significant discrepancies depending on race and socio-economic status; claiming that those without the financial resources available to mount an aggressive defense against such accusations are more likely to be penalized by the law than others. It is important to consider all potential avenues of legal protection when examining online threats as fitting into existing laws is not always guaranteed or foolproof.
Given this critical aspect of protecting our children from online abuse, we must now explore strategies for addressing cyberbullying attacks to prevent further harm being done to both victims and perpetrators alike.
Strategies to Address Cyberbullying Attacks
When it comes to legal action as a result of cyberbullying, there is much debate about how far the repercussions for offenders should reach. Some argue that legal action itself should be seen as a last resort due to the severity and permanence of resulting consequences such as criminal records. Others point to research such as Helen Wiseman’s 2012 study showing that legal protection or prosecution is an effective way of deterring cyberbullying behavior.
Since cases of cyberbullying can involve multiple parties, both perpetrators and potential victims, it is important to consider strategies for addressing cyberbullying attacks beyond legal action. Strategies may include engaging with victims and their families to provide support and empowering them through education on the scope and impact of cyberbullying. Professional resources such as social workers and law enforcement can also play a role in providing additional protection when appropriate. Providing additional education and training to both educators and parents on recognizing signs of cyberbullying can help prevent and address incidents.
Efforts to Prevent Cyberbullying
As with other types of bullying, cyberbullying can be prevented by early intervention and education. A supportive network of parents, administrators and educators is a proven strategy for reducing risk and effecting positive change. Children should also be encouraged to take ownership of their online accounts and practice from an early age the responsible use of social media platforms.
One effective prevention technique is to encourage kids to speak out when they are being harassed or cyberbullied. Bystanders can play an important role in stopping occurrences of bullying. They can do this by speaking directly to the teacher or school leadership about the abuse, but also by offering emotional support to those affected and spreading awareness about the consequences of cyberbullying. Educators have a tremendous potential to help children learn how to protect themselves online, which ultimately will lead to creating better-informed digital citizens and helping reduce instances of cyberbullying.
Schools should also put into place clear guidelines and policies governing online behavior, such as establishing and following rules that apply both inside and outside the classroom. This should include monitoring student accounts on social media, responding promptly when cases are reported, disciplining those found guilty of misconduct, and providing counseling services for victims. Schools should coordinate with local law enforcement when necessary; perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions regardless of whether they occur in a physical or virtual setting.
It is important to recognize that efforts to combat cyberbullying will not succeed without parents getting involved too. This includes monitoring internet usage at home, making sure inappropriate pictures or messages do not get posted online, encouraging regular communication between parent and child concerning usage habits, learning about current trends in cyberspace and gradually introducing more guidance as children’s technical skills grow over time.
Fighting cyberbullying involves involving everyone in the community and establishing a culture where such abuse is simply not tolerated. It requires commitment from everyone involved – parents must be educated to respond appropriately to incidents and actively participate in preventing behavior before it begins; teachers must have a comprehensive understanding of how cyberbullying works; while students must engage with one another in respectful ways online. Ultimately this necessitates that every member of the community take responsibility for creating safe online environments since even one case of cyberbullying constitutes a serious detriment to a safe learning environment.