Cyberbullying and online harassment are profoundly dangerous and alarming behaviors with real, often severe and sometimes fatal, consequences for victims.
The behavior — also called “digital self-harm” or “self-trolling” has become a hot topic days, particularly among teens. A recent study, led by Sameer Hinduja, PhD (a researcher and bullying expert at Florida Atlantic University ) found 1 in 20 middle- and high-schoolers in the US have purposefully posted, sent or shared mean things about themselves anonymously online. The Blue Whale Challenge being one of the greatest example of this.
The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that of the teens who reported self-cyberbullying, about half had done it just once, about one-third had done it a few times, and 13% had done it many times. Interestingly, boys were more likely than girls to participate in this behavior. Their reasons, however, varied dramatically: Boys described their behavior as a joke or a way to get attention while girls said they did it because they were depressed or psychologically hurt.
Cyberbullying today is not specific to any particular online environment. It can occur through SMS [texting], email, social media, gaming consoles, web forums, virtual environments, and any other online platform yet to be conceived.
Victims of cyberbullying are in a vulnerable state, so how you respond to your child, and how you proceed with any actions is critically important. Your first task is to listen to your child without judgment, blame, or attempting to jump in and ‘solve’ it.
Here are practical tips to help parents tackle the dangerous side of cyberbullying
- Refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same.What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.
- Talk regularly and specifically with your children about online issues. Let them know they can come to you for help if anything is inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous.
- If your child did not come to you right away, do not place blame, just let them know you are grateful they have come to you now. Instilling any form of fear at this stage can lead to more harm than cure.
- Don’t underreact by telling your children to “shrug it off” or just deal with the bullying. The emotional pain of being bullied or self- trolling is very real and can have long-lasting effects. Bullying hurts and that hurt is exhibited many forms — anger, embarrassment, betrayal, frustration, confusion, fear, and reprisal.
- Restricting technology time is not a permanent solution. Build trust with your children. Set time limits, explain your reasons for them, and discuss rules for online safety and Internet use.
- Don’t stop when the bullying stops – keep talking and consider counselling.
This message of support is what parents should focus on, rather than panic. The stark reality is that there will always be dangers facing our children, the rise of cyberbullying is simply the latest. We have a responsibility and an opportunity as adults to keep them safe. Let’s ensure we know enough to do so.
“STOP, SPEAK, SUPPORT”