By Ariana Lobo

girl bullied on computer

Oftentimes when we think of bullying, an ordinary school room or cafeteria comes to mind. But imagine instead a chat room, or imagine utilizing Facebook to extensively harass and bully another individual. This is what bullying often looks like for today’s youth. In fact, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, the percentages of individuals who have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime has doubled just from 2007 to 2016.

Parents and teachers are provided with bullet-pointed lists on what to buy in order to prepare their child or student for the new year, but what tools exist for helping those young people affected by cyberbullying? Below is an inside look at where cyberbullying often begins, how it affects our youth, as well as, some helpful tools and resources.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Experts have defined bullying by three distinguishing factors: intentionality, repetition, and imbalance of power. Bullying is also characteristically role-based in that there is typically a set aggressor(s) and a victim(s). The only difference with cyberbullying is that the aggressor is behind a screen. In fact, only 40-50% of those being bullied online actually know the identity of their perpetrator, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.

How It Affects Our Youth

Robert Slonje and Peter K. Smith in their article entitled “Cyberbullying: Another main type of bullying?” on behalf of the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, conducted a study on 360 adolescents aged 12-20 in order to examine the extent of cyberbullying in their environment. The study shows that cyberbullying displayed the highest negative effects via picture and video clips online. Image-based bullying often imprinted highly toxic feedback to the individuals being bullied as the content is viewed by so many onlookers. For instance, in offline bullying if an adolescent were to point and make fun of another individual in front of others, the effect would be immediate but limited to that classroom. Whereas online, if an image or video-clip were made public, the effect is exponential due to the size of the viewership. The study also noted that adolescents either communicated their problems to a friend or to no one at all. Unfortunately, this can often leave parents and guardians in the dark, with no knowledge of the incidents taking place.

Silence is a major factor when it comes to bullying. Often the victim experiences a high level of shame and does not feel comfortable enough to come forward. Therefore, it is always wiser to foster a welcoming environment, listen attentively and offer support when addressing any adolescent that has experienced or is experiencing bullying.

Tools and Resources: How You Can Help

According to the CDC, students that experience cyberbullying are at an increased risk of also experiencing sleep difficulties, anxiety and depression. When we begin to understand the detrimental effects of this particular form of abuse, we can better understand how to address it. Below are a few specific guidelines to both prevent and aid someone experiencing cyberbullying:

1. Digital Awareness
By educating our youth on the ins-and-outs of internet use, particularly social media, we provide them with the practical ability to avoid and/or shut out negative influences. Features such as “mute” for quieting certain profiles, stories, or even general content can allow the user to be more selective in their online experience.

2. Encourage Peer Involvement
Studies often show that adolescents feel more comfortable in sharing their innermost thoughts and intimate secrets with their peers. Encouraging healthy and receptive communication among adolescents and their friends provides an avenue for their own respective voices to be heard.

3. Attentive Listening
Across the board, students and youth that have experienced bullying and decided to come forward report that they felt most comfortable when speaking with an attentive listener. The shame of their situation can cause maladaptive behaviors and other toxic habits, therefore, when they divulge their truth, a willing and open heart is the first step towards healing.

4. Encourage Self-Reflection Practices and Self-Care

By encouraging young people to take a proactive role in the care of their own health and well-being, we provide them with the innate ability to cope and heal emotionally. Teaching adolescents to take time for their mental health, to reach out for assistance, and to practice generosity towards themselves allows them to develop self-esteem and self-respect- two character traits that are powerful in combatting bullying.

5. Work Together as A Team
When trying to resolve a bullying issue with a young child or adolescent, always strive to make them a part of the process. Oftentimes, parents and guardians may feel the need to step in and approach the situation alone. Although the intention may be justified, parents must allow their children to have an active role in their own life. Participation can also allow the victim to independently search for solutions to the problem, which can then provide them with the confidence to address potential future incidents, but with greater confidence.

6. If You Suspect, Take Action
If you or someone you know suspects that an individual may be experiencing bullying, whether online or in-person, speak up. Reach out to a parent or guardian and respectfully make them aware of a potential problem with their child. Oftentimes, the greatest gift can be to simply offer support to someone that may be struggling.

Ariana Lobo is the Managing Content Editor with Retreat Behavioral Health. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from Elon University. Ariana is passionate about creating content that is challenging and thought-provoking. Previously, she worked at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Ma, where she was responsible for all written, marketing and media content for their Summer season. Ariana also worked at her alma mater Elon University, as Diversity Coordinator for the Center for Race Ethnicity and Diversity Education. She worked directly with the Latino community to integrate diversity programming to help grow and assist the local community. Ariana was a featured speaker at the ALANAM Women’s Conference in the Spring of 2017.
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