By Becky Gillette
Cyberbullying, can be devastating to young people because there is a large audience, and it can be persistent. The child or teenager might even know who is bullying them. Even worse, it could be multiple people. And the experience can be constant because youth can be online at any time, said Sarah E. Domoff, PhD, an associate psychology professor at Central Michigan University.
Bullying correlates with suicidal ideation. And it can be something people don’t want to talk about.
“In interviewing clinicians who work with teens who have experienced online victimization, we learned that there's a great fear in disclosing harmful online interactions because youth worry that their access to social media could be limited or removed,” Domoff said. “This can be upsetting because removing online access would mean a loss of social connection and support for some youth.”
Youth seeking mental health treatment and older teen girls experience cyberbullying more often. Domoff said many of adolescents' social experiences occur online so it is critical to help youth develop coping skills related to online interactions and help them shape their online experiences to yield more positive connections.
“It’s important to help teens learn how to engage with social media in healthy ways and have resources available for when online victimization occurs,” Domoff said. “There are some great resources online, such as https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it and https://www.missingkids.org/theissues/sextortion.
“There are also lessons available for teachers to implement to help prevent cyberbullying and get support. Our team has developed an intervention to help teens after they have experienced harmful online interactions that includes a component for parents. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9483492/
“It's important for parents to have regular, supportive conversations with their children about their online experiences.”
A helpful resource from the American Psychological Association provides more detail: https://www.apa.org/topics/social-media-internet/social-media-parent-tips
It is estimated that cyberbullying impacts 16 percent of U.S. youth. There are other negative online social interactions, as well. When you extend the definition to include any type of online harassment, the prevalence jumps to about half of U.S. teens.
“It is possible for cyberbullying to happen anywhere,” Domoff said. “For example, some harassment can happen in gaming chat rooms.
“Cyberbullying is found most commonly on Instagram for adolescents, followed by Facebook and Snapchat, said Natashia Bottoms, MD, assistant professor of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “TikTok is an emerging problem area. I think one of the things that makes cyberbullying more difficult than with in-person bullying is at least with in-person bullying, there are safe places you can go like your home. Cyberbullying is on your phone and your phone is everywhere. We’ve seen a lot of issues with focus in school, grades dropping, sleep issues, anxiety and depression.”
When people can say things anonymously online without others intervening, it is just the victim and the bully. In addition to negative comments, it is common for bullies to post pictures or memes that are hurtful or disclose personal information meant to embarrass others.
“Parents can do a lot to facilitate awareness,” Bottoms said. “You can offer comfort and support. Let them talk to you and intervene if you notice things getting to an unsafe place. It is important to let your kids know it is not their fault. You are in it together and will work on it together. But also, be careful of how you respond to children bullies on social media. You can get wrapped up in the same situation. Keep screenshots of messages or texts you find or that the child brings to you. Encourage children not to respond to cyberbullying because it just makes it worse.
“There is a point when some parents have to monitor social media use and reduce time allowed on their phone. Or turn off certain apps if one in particular is causing problems.
“A lot of the time in those apps, direct messages are from people anonymously sending nasty responses. In high school and middle school, all you need is the hint of something to get embarrassed. It’s a hard world for teens right now. Most devices have a way to block certain people and messages. It’s important to block those people so they can’t have access to the person being bullied.”