We live in a world where bullying has always been an ongoing problem in schools. For many of us, school was the last place we wanted to go because we did not feel safe there. Danger loomed around every corner, whether it was in the form of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse from peers (often all three). However, at the end of the day, we could go home, take the phone off the hook, and finally be safe. Our current generation isn’t so lucky.
The Role of Technology in Empowering Bullies
The advent of the internet, personal computers, and smartphones has enhanced our lives in so many ways; we can pay our bills online in seconds, stay connected with family and friends all over the world almost effortlessly, and have access to all of the news, information, and entertainment we could ever want. However, the down side to these technologies is that we’re constantly connected to the outside world. That’s where cyberbullying comes in. Even when a child arrives safely home from school, bullies still have access to them via social media, and there’s nowhere to hide. Cyberbullying can take many different forms, including sending mean messages to someone, spreading rumors about someone on public forums, and using a fake profile to trick or deceive someone, commonly known as “catfishing.”
Cyberbullying has become extremely prevalent among our youth. 80% of kids ages 10-15 report having witnessed cyberbullying, and 42% of teens with technology access report being bullied online over the past year. Tragically, 20% of teens who are cyberbullied consider ending their own lives. With 7.5 million Facebook users under the age of 13, it’s clear that we have a lot of young lives to protect. Besides the risk of suicide, bullying often has long-term effects on victims. Dr. Michelle Tye from UNSW Medicine, who’s based at Black Dog Institute, says although bullying is a complex issue, there is clear evidence that it is linked to poor mental health outcomes. Examples of these long-term effects include depression and anxiety, poor psychological and emotional functioning, mental health disorders, and difficulty forming adult relationships or maintaining employment in adulthood.
Resources to Combat Cyberbullying
What can we do to fight back against cyberbullies and protect our children and teens from abuse? I’m glad you asked! First of all, as parents, we are our child’s most important advocate, and there are warning signs we can look for if we are concerned that a child may be experiencing cyberbullying. They may become withdrawn or antisocial, have trouble sleeping, avoid going online or checking their phone, quickly close webpages when you are nearby, or avoid going to school. We should also be discussing cyber safety with our children on a regular basis and monitoring their online activity. We recommend implementing these 10 rules of cyber safety for kids. It is also recommended to train children to keep their devices secure by using strong pins and passwords for accounts, setting apps to log out when inactive, encrypting sensitive data, and setting screens to lock after one minute of inactivity. Additional resources are available here for parents of teens, including information about app security as well as reasons for and methods of advanced cyberbullying that we should all be aware of. Finally, we should always remind our children and teens that once something is posted online, it’s online forever, so they should always think twice before commenting or sharing.
Take the Pledge!
We need to do everything in our power to protect our children and teens from cyberbullies. Besides being active and engaged parents, there is one more thing we all can do: We can take the pledge to report and stop cyberbullying when we see it. Cyberbullying is a crime, and we can save lives by reporting every instance of it immediately. If you haven’t already, take the pledge today and let’s make tomorrow safer and happier for all of our children and teens.