Twelve-year-old Susan resented the fact that her best friend Jamie was hanging around with Bonnie, whose family just moved to town. Susan posted cruel comments online about Jamie, who was devastated by the hurtful words. Jamie alerted her mother, who called Susan’s mother and the school principal. After discussions with her parents and the school principal, Susan apologized to Jamie and, fortunately, was able to delete the online comments.
Jamie was a victim of cyberbullying, a form of bullying that takes place using electronic technology including cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying includes sending mean text messages and/or emails, emailing or posting rumors on social-media sites, and posting and/or creating embarrassing or fake photos, videos, and websites. Legal ramifications may be severe.
“Cyberbullying is very prevalent among middle-school and high-school students and is growing among elementary-school children as they become more tech-savvy,” says Anne C. Lisciotto, LCSW, a Christian Health Care Counseling Center therapist. “It is becoming one of the most dangerous forms of bullying because it can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week, within the privacy of a child’s home, a place where he or she would normally feel protected from peer abuse.”
Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a wide audience. Deleting them may prove difficult, as can be tracing the source.
“The effects of cyberbullying can be extraordinarily damaging, leading to isolation, difficulty concentrating, decline in grades, depression, anxiety, verbal and physical aggression, refusing to go to school, self-harm, substance abuse, thoughts of death, and suicide,” Ms. Lisciotto says.
Educating children about cyberbullying and the importance of reporting it is one tactic parents and other caregivers can utilize to try to prevent and address it.
“Unfortunately, most children do not report it for fear of further peer ridicule and shame,” Ms. Lisciotto says. “It is essential to keep open communication with children so we can assist them through the process of self-advocacy and emotional protection. With this in mind, it is also important to monitor their social networking sites on a regular basis, especially if any symptoms of cyberbullying are present.”
If parents become aware of cyberbullying toward their child, they should remain calm, validate their child’s feelings, and gather information.
“Parents should immediately notify school administration and authorities, and refrain from immediately contacting the parents of the perpetrator, which may make the situation worse,” Ms. Lisciotto says. “Parents may also consider counseling or a psychiatric evaluation of their child to determine the existence of any potentially damaging effects and treatment options. Parents should also be informed about how to deal with their own anger and anxiety to avoid affecting their reactions to their child.”