Dr. Deb's Mental Health Vitamin: Cyberbullying

Dr. Deb Wade

By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services

There is a common belief that any good thing, to an extreme, is bad.

I believe that this is true in so many areas: sugar … too much, not good; sleeping … too much, not good; shopping … too much, not good; caffeine … too much, not good … and the list could go on and on.

But some things to the extreme actually can cause a serious outcome. Nowhere is this truer than with social media and children. While there are some good qualities – being able to connect with friends, share ideas, create conversations with multiple people – it also can be the means to awaken the bully in those who are prone to be so.

Cyberbullying … this is where an old, common enemy can get a new and terrifying face. Children can be the subjects of harassing texts and mean-spirited memes; they can be publicly shamed, condemned, made fun of and intimidated for anyone to see.

Oftentimes cyberbullying can include threats – of spreading terrible rumors, of ridiculing the child’s loved ones. Or it can include statements to suggest that the child/teen should just quit living. It is a terrifying conundrum, indeed.

A study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), released in June 2018, found that suicide rates across the country have been rising at an alarming rate. Every state (except Nevada) saw a rise in its suicides between 1999 and 2016.

Additionally, among youth, the trends are even more troubling and concerning – another CDC report found that suicide rates among youth from ages 10-17 rose a staggering 70 percent.

While there may be many reasons, it is more than coincidental that those rates have collided with a rise in cyberbullying. Scary, huh?

Sadly, bullying is nothing new. Kids and teens have been bullied since there have been kids and teens. And, often, online harassment and abuse are accompanied by real-world bullying.

However, with cyberbullying there seems to be no safe haven – the disturbing threats/ridicule/intimidation tactics come right through the door of the victim’s home via social media.  

The norm is that teens seem to be online almost constantly, checking their phones frequently – often first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In fact, some studies indicate that teens actually sleep with their phones, therefore being “dinged” each time an incoming message or alert comes to them.

So … while connectivity can be wonderful in so many ways via the multiple avenues of social media, it also opens the door to nearly constant harassment and bullying. For kids, social media is a direct line to their community – for all the right, good and positive reasons, but also for the negative and hurtful ones.

It is important that parents, grandparents or other significant adults in a child’s, teen’s or young adult’s life know the signs … and then take action when those signs are revealed.

A Child May be a Target of Cyberbullying if He/She:

  • Unexpectedly stops using his/her device
  • Appears nervous or jumpy when using his/her device
  • Appears uneasy about going to school or going outside in general
  • Appears to be angry, depressed or frustrated after going online (including gaming)
  • Is oversleeping … or not sleeping enough
  • Becomes abnormally withdrawn from friends and family members
  • Demonstrates an increase or decrease in eating
  • Seems withdrawn, quiet, evasive
  • Makes any statements about suicide, “not being here,” or the meaninglessness of life
  • Loses interest in things that used to matter
  • Avoids discussion about “friends” or online conversations
  • Makes frequent calls from school requesting to go home
  • Desires to spend more time with parents than peers
  • Is secretive, especially regarding online activities

(courtesy of Cyberbullying Research Center)

If you see any of these signs (especially in clusters), please act. Provide words of safety and comfort and give them the freedom to share their fears. Have open-body posturing, which demonstrates that there is acceptance of the fears, not just words to minimize the fears.  

Reiterate the child’s value and express words of love and acceptance. In addition, report any harassing behaviors that your child has endured – to the school authorities and to the police.

Just a reminder to all of us who may have children in the home (of any age): Be very aware of their online activity, have open discussions of how innocent interchanges can go awry, have limitations on their screen time and give children the “safety” and freedom to share anything that is uncomfortable to them.

Cyberbullies are often unrelenting and incredibly persistent. Although most “friends” via social media are sending and receiving innocent, harmless and/or positive messages, let’s be keenly tuned in and aware to ensure that our kids are safe within their “cyber communities.”

****

Related content:

GCU Today: Dr. Deb's Mental Health Vitamin: Unlocking passion for your job

GCU Today: Dr. Deb's Mental Health Vitamin: Love is a box of chocolates

GCU Today: Dr. Deb's Mental Health Vitamin: Marital reconciliation

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