Follow @VahabzadehMDAmerican Psychiatric Association Leadership Fellow
Resident Physician in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MGH/McLean/Harvard Medical School
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying, intimidation, and harassment that happens with the aid of electronic technology. Cyberbullying can happen through text messaging, social media, and emails. The boundaries of cyberbullying continue to expand as new communication technologies emerge.
Cyberbullying is emerging as a major problem, with new research from the Bureau for Justice Statistics revealing that 9% of teenagers aged 12-18 have reported being cyberbullied in a given year.
Female students are more likely to experience cyberbullying. The most common forms of cyberbullying include harassment by text or instant messaging, or the posting of hurtful information on the internet. Despite the high levels of cyberbullying, an adult is notified in only a quarter of cases.
How is cyberbullying different than traditional bullying?
Cyberbullying can continue 24 hours a day and is not dependent on location. While traditional bullying often requires the physical presence of a bully, a child can be cyberbullied at anytime and anywhere they are in contact with communication technology, including their own cell phone. There may be no “safe” zone and this may intensify the level of distress that the cyberbullying can produce.
Material such as digital pictures, text messages, or social media posts designed to hurt an individual can be rapidly distributed to a large group of people. Often it is difficult to find out the source of the information, giving a degree of anonymity to the cyberbully.
Harassing and intimidating material, once distributed through digital means are also much more difficult to remove. Often videos or pictures may stay indefinitely available through digital means.
What are the effects of cyberbullying?
People who are cyberbullied are thought to be at risk of the same consequences of traditional bullying. These effects include increased depression, decreased self-worth, hopelessness, and loneliness. There is some evidence to suggest that being cyberbullied may result in suicidal feelings in 20% of teenagers, a higher rate than in traditional bullying.
What can we do about cyberbullying?
Promote Good Digital Habits
- Keep your children informed about the risks of the technology they are using.
- Engage your children in a discussion on how to best deal with cyberbullying by formulating a plan for dealing with text messages or other digital content that is upsetting to them. Children should be made to feel as comfortable as possible in discussing their experiences with trusted adults.
- Review and teach them about privacy settings for digital media. Talk to them about limiting the amount of private information they share about themselves.
- Tell children to keep their passwords safe and not to share them with friends or people they don’t know.
- Approach a child if you notice signs of changing behavior, especially if it is happening when they are using the computer, their cell phone, or any other communication device.
- Consider discussing the situation with the suspected bullies’ parents, the child’s school, and other organizations they may be involved in.
- Identify and archive the cyberbullying material, it may be useful when contacting the Internet service provider, cell phone company, or in severe circumstances, the police.
- Consider closing down targeted social media accounts or changing cell phone numbers.
- Some cyberbullies thrive on obtaining a reaction, avoiding replying to messages or engaging with the cyberbully may also be useful in some situations.
Where can I get more information?
More on bullying