Many people think that the worst thing about bullying is the physical impact: being bullied, having the whole class stop talking, having their school bag taken away, being beaten. This is why cyberbullying - bullying on the internet - is often not taken seriously. We discuss the dangers of cyberbullying, what should parents do if their child is being cyberbullied.
In 1993, the Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus gave the now accepted definition of bullying in children and teenagers: "Bullying is deliberate, systematically repeated aggressive behaviour involving an inequality of power or force". And with the rise of the Internet, another term has emerged: cyberbullying, i.e. bullying in the online space. It is not only bloggers with a large audience who face it.
Cyberbullying, like bullying in real life, cannot be predicted. Anyone can be a victim and the reason can be anything: appearance, interests, orientation, behaviour. The bully will always find something to pick on and tell the person whom they have victimized that there is something wrong with them, that they are not worthy of respect, that they are ashamed to be like them.
Cyberbullying is a form of verbal aggression. In some cases, it may be an extension of bullying in real life, in others, a child or young person is bullied by people they don't know (same age or older) or by people with whom they only communicate online. The most important thing is whether the child reaches out to adults for help (especially parents, teachers, school psychologists).
The Internet makes it possible to bully someone without getting close to them. Anonymity reduces personal responsibility, and as a result, aggressors do things that they might not dare to do in real life.
There is another side to cyberbullying: A child observing bullying online begins to feel that such behaviour is normal. It is a phenomenon described in many studies. In other words, it is a kind of legitimization of verbal aggression.
The most frequent bullying takes place through social media, messengers, chat rooms, forums and gaming platforms. A person is threatened, insulted, called names, taunted, left rude comments on their pages, mocked, gossip spread, rumours, and compromising photos and videos of them. Moreover, harassment, insults and intimidation continue on a daily basis, i.e. are systematic and may happen virtually around the clock. Online harassment may be accompanied by bullying in real life as well, sometimes one spills over into the other.
"Ignore it" is Not Good Advice
The problem of cyberbullying is made worse by the fact that many parents don't take it seriously, think it's impossible and far-fetched. For example, they say things like, "They're just joking around," "You can't pay attention to everything they write on the Internet," "You shouldn't overreact". But if it is funny everyone is supposed to laugh. If your child feels humiliated and intimidated, angry and horrified at what is happening and want it to stop immediately, we are talking about bullying. Therein lies the added danger of cyberbullying: unfortunately, it can be prolonged through lack of parental support and lead to unfortunate consequences.
Analysis of teenagers' comments on social media shows that cyberbullying is an acute problem. Many teenagers write that they do not know where or who to turn to for help. Even if they have many personal resources to cope with difficult situations, young people may still be at risk because long-term cyberbullying can provoke anxiety, depression and a desire to limit their contact with people both online and offline. In some cases, (if cyberbullying is an extension of their school) a child may stop attending school.
Children and young people up to the age of 25 who are subjected to cyberbullying are at risk of self-harming and suicidal behaviour.
Teenagers are indeed the most vulnerable group to cyberbullying because they find it more difficult to cope with their emotions and are often more dependent on the opinions and judgements of others. Systematic humiliation and insults can quickly throw them off balance. A 2007 study of children in California showed 93% of victims of cyberbullying reported feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
How To Know If A Child Is A Victim Of Online Bullying
There is a possibility that the child has become a victim of cyberbullying if he or she is in a depressed mood, withdrawn (in general, emotional changes in a child should be treated very carefully and tactfully), reacts negatively to a new message notification on the smartphone, communicates less online, suddenly starts to show self-aggressive behaviour (cuts, burns, etc.) or if in their notebooks or in the social networks you are able to find depressive posts.
If cyberbullying is an extension of bullying at school, children may avoid classmates, avoid school social events, be frequently ill or otherwise absent from school or try to leave school because they are unwell.
How Parents Can Help Their Child From Cyberbullying
- You should not prohibit the use of social media or the internet, as this can complicate the relationship with the child and he or she may become distant, withdrawn, less communicative. It is much more effective to help him/her to critically view the situation, "disconnect" the messages of the bully from the child's personality, help him/her to comprehend what is happening as an experience which will help to form skills to resist cyberbullying.
- Keep in touch with your child on social media and messengers. Pay attention to your child's posts and comments on them.
- Talk to your child about what is bothering him or her and it is important to show patience, goodwill and encourage the child to believe that the situation can be handled, that you are there to control it and are there to protect and support him or her.
- If you feel and see that your child is depressed, consult a psychologist. Every case is different and an individual help strategy and tactic must be chosen.
In terms of technical means, it is possible and necessary to block offenders on all platforms and forums where they appear, disable comments, report to the administrators of those groups and networks where horrible insults appear. Online harassment has the advantage, in a sense, that it can be proven (in extreme cases, when life and death are at stake) if screenshots of the messages, audio and video recordings are saved. This evidence may help when it comes to adult intervention.
Teach your children about their privacy settings as soon as they begin their online journey, including blacklists, and control over who can see your profile, leave comments and generally what information about you others can see.
Explain to children that there are things you shouldn't post because it could be used against them.
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