What is Bullying?

A bully can usually be identified through the following three characteristics: intent, repetition, and power. A bully wants to cause pain, either through physical harm, hurtful words, or some unpleasant behavior, and does so repeatedly. Boys are more likely to experience physical bullying, while girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying.

Bullying is not just an isolated incident but rather a pattern of behavior. Children who bully usually see themselves as superior in some way to their victims. This could be from a perceived higher social status or position of power, such as children who are physically larger, stronger, or seen as more popular.

More vulnerable children are generally at greater risk of being bullied. Oftentimes these children hail from communities that are marginalized, from poor families, those with disabilities or refugee children.

Signs of Bullying

Look closely. Observe children’s emotional state, as some children may not express their concerns verbally. Signs to look out for include:

  1. Physical marks: unexplained bruises, scratches, broken bones and wounds

  2. Fear of going to school or joining school events

  3. Being anxious, nervous or hypervigilant

  4. Having few friends in school or outside of school

  5. Losing friends suddenly or avoiding social situations

  6. Clothing, electronics or other personal belongings being lost or destroyed

  7. Often asking for money

  8. A typically low academic performance

  9. Absenteeism, or calling from school asking to go home

  10. Trying to stay near adults

  11. Not sleeping well and maybe having nightmares

  12. Complaining of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments

  13.  Acting aggressive or having angry outbursts

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.

The prevalence of cyberbullying among teens is thought to be between 10% and 40% and poses specific risks because it can be done day and night, in various contexts, is rapid, anonymous, and reaches a wide audience, say the researchers. It has been suggested that there may be some overlap between traditional bullying and cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  1. Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok

  2. Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices

  3. Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet

  4. Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit

  5. Email

  6. Online gaming communities

Cyberbullying has unique concerns in that it can be:

  1. Persistent – Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.

  2. Permanent – Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.

  3. Difficult to Detect – Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.

Cyberbullying Tactics

It is important to understand how children are cyberbullied so it can be easily recognized and action can be taken. Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:

  1. Posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing

  2. Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves

  3. Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video

  4. Pretending to be someone else online to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else

  5. Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about any race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics online

  6. Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone

  7. Doxing, an abbreviated form of the word documents, is a form of online harassment used to exact revenge and to threaten and destroy the privacy of individuals by making their information public, including addresses, social security, credit card, and phone numbers, links to social media accounts, and other private data

The Effects of Cyberbullying

When bullying happens online it can feel as if you’re being attacked everywhere, even inside your own home. It can seem like there’s no escape. The effects of cyberbullying can last a long time and affect a person in many ways:

  1. Mentally — feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even angry

  2. Emotionally — feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things you love

  3. Physically — tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches

The feeling of being laughed at or harassed by others can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. In extreme cases, cyberbullying can even lead to people taking their own lives.

An article on VeryWellMind about cyberbullying and depression in kids notes that “Victims of cyberbullying can experience symptoms of depression including sadness, loneliness, insecurity, poor self-esteem, academic decline, feelings of not belonging, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.”

Cyberbullying can cause depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other concerns for the child who is targeted. Cyberbullying is linked to various types of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, both for victims and perpetrators, suggests the first study of its kind, published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Warning Signs of Cyberbullying

Many of the warning signs that cyberbullying is occurring happen around a child’s use of their device. Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:

  1. Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting

  2. The child exhibits emotional responses regarding what is happening on his/her device

  3. Hiding the screen or device when others are near

  4. Avoids discussion about what they are doing on the device

  5. Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear

  6. The child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past

  7. The child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities

How Parents and School Psychologists can Help

Since the research shows that cyberbullying on social media is linked to depression in teens, parents must remain engaged with their teens and talk about ways to seek help. And when necessary, online school psychologists must understand what they can do to help as well.

If you as the parent or online school psychologist notice warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying, take steps to investigate that child’s digital behavior. Because cyberbullying happens online, an effective response often demands a different approach.

If you think that a child is involved in cyberbullying, there are several things you can do:

1. Notice

Recognize if there has been a change in mood or behavior, and explore what the cause might be. Try to determine if these changes happen around a child’s use of their digital devices.

2. Listen

Allow the child to talk openly and calmly. The child shouldn’t feel intimidated by you nor embarrassed to share feelings. It is essential to make the child feel heard and supported. Don’t judge or fix: Children (especially teens) need adults to listen without judgment. The initial objective is to earn the child’s trust. It is only then that attempts can be made to find the underlying cause of the bullying and attempt to solve the problem.

Unconditional support is key. If you listen, empathize, and work together, the child will continue to seek your help. Respond thoughtfully: Resist the urge to blast out your concerns on your own social media channels. This won’t help your teen and might make it worse. Once you have the child’s trust, then you can begin to ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who is involved.

3. Document

Keep a record of what is happening. Take screenshots of harmful posts or content if possible. Bullying is repeated, so records help to document it.

4. Report

If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it to the school. If the cyberbully is from outside the school, you may need to deal with the social media platform directly. Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting processes. You can also contact apps or social media platforms to report offensive content and have it removed.

Chances are your child knows how to block users and protect passwords, but it can’t hurt to review privacy settings, scroll through friend lists to identify potential fake accounts, and report fake accounts, harassing comments, or inappropriate photos.

5. Educate

Once they know what cyberbullying is, your children will identify it more easily, whether it is happening to them or someone else. Help your child to be a positive role model. There are three parties to bullying: the victim, the perpetrator, and the bystander.

Discuss the importance of reporting bullying or inappropriate content even if this child isn’t the victim, and reaching out to kids being victimized online. When children are empowered to help other children, they learn that they have the power to combat online negativity by spreading kindness and support.

6. Get Involved

If possible, become part of the child’s online experience. Familiarize yourself with the platforms the child uses, explain to your child how the online and offline worlds are places that can offer tremendous growth and enjoyable experiences, while at the same time could also be dangerous if not navigated properly.

7. Problem-Solving

Work together to craft a plan with the child. You recognize that the child doesn’t have the tools to do this alone. At the same time, you need to empower the child to develop the autonomy to use problem-solving skills that work for him/her. Brainstorm possible solutions, including the best “point person” in that child’s life (teacher, school psychologist, or member of the school administration) with whom to work together.

Seize the Moment

The coronavirus pandemic has created many unexpected and unforeseen challenges for parents and their children across the nation. Many schools closed and then shifted to doing remote learning at the same time that non-essential businesses and activities shut down, increasing the amount of time many students spent online participating in digital activities. While anxiety levels and depression may have peaked in April, cyberbullying has only gotten worse.

There is an increased risk for cyberbullying to take place between children now due to restricted at-school contact and more time spent online. Additionally, parents may feel “exhausted” and may lower their guard regarding what their child is doing online during non-school hours. By the beginning of April 2020, an AI company dedicated to monitoring hate speech online noted a 70% increase in the amount of hate speech among teens and children in online chats.

If there was ever a time for us to become more aware, more vigilant, and more resolved to eradicate this vicious malady impacting our precious children, the time is now!