Bullying in any form is awful. It’s unacceptable behavior regardless of the bully’s age, and it can occur in a number of different ways. It can have devastating effects on children and teens, so it’s incredibly important that it is handled appropriately and quickly. Bullying used to be something that only happened in face-to-face situations, such as on the bus, at school, at an afterschool hangout, and the like. Nowadays, online bullying has become rampant among children and teens, although other forms of bullying are still present. Let’s look specifically at online bullying, its effects, why it needs to be addressed, and how to deal with it if it affects you or someone you know.
What Is Online Bullying?
Online bullying is any form of harassment, threatening, or humiliation done via digital technology. This can include text messages or instant messages, emails, or anything done on social media. Online bullying can seem minor, such as one child texting another child mean things, or it can seem as extreme and major as a group of kids creating an entire social media profile to make fun of a classmate. No matter the level to which the online bullying is taking place, it can be very challenging for students to deal with and should never be ignored. It’s important to note that cyberbullying can be done by one person or several, and the identity of the bully may not always be known. Online bullies may make physical threats, inappropriate and sexual comments or suggestions, spread lies or rumors, reveal secrets, or exclude individuals from certain things. Because online bullying is done via the internet, students may feel at risk anywhere because their attackers can reach them anywhere they have an internet connection. This means that every safe place they’ve known no longer feels safe.
Effects of Online Bullying
The effects of online bullying are more far-reaching than most people realize. Even if it’s just a one-on-one situation and the entire school isn’t involved, victims of online bullying can experience significant distress, fear, sadness, and more. The most common feelings associated with being a victim of online bullying include feeling hurt, angry, scared, isolated, helpless, hopeless, and anxious. Some children will experience depression or anxiety due to online bullying, and some children have even become suicidal because of the relentlessness of an online bully. Students who are bullied are more likely to drop out of school or skip school, see their grades suffer, and withdraw from the things and people they once enjoyed. They will likely experience physical health concerns, including sleeplessness, more frequent sickness, and a number of mental health issues, such as depression, low self-esteem, and even a form of PTSD.
While regular bullying is absolutely hard and awful, cyberbullying may be even worse for a number of reasons. First, it can happen anywhere. It’s not specific to just happening at school, and it can leave children feeling like there is no escape from it no matter where they go. Second, online bullying is often done anonymously, which can make kids feel paranoid, untrusting, and more threatened. Cyberbullies often get bolder when they think they won’t be caught or found out, which can make them go to more extremes and be even meaner. Third, since the bullying isn’t done in person, the bully often doesn’t see the immediate reaction of the victim, which can be unsatisfying for them, so they may push things too far for the sake of getting a reaction and feeling fulfilled in their bullying. And finally, the lies, threats, and humiliation associated with online bullying can be something that hundreds or thousands of people see. It’s not just about a few kids in the hallway overhearing someone making fun of a peer anymore. People on the internet are ruthless and students know how to quickly spread their posts to far-reaching avenues to get the most exposure and make the most impact on their victims.
Why It Needs to Be Taken Seriously
A lot of people may say that “kids will be kids” and while that is true, kids need accountability for the things they say and do, and that includes instances of online bullying. Children and teens have committed suicide in response to cyberbullying and although that is an extreme, no child should be made to feel inferior or less than simply because another student wants to harass them on the internet. Kids need to learn how to interact with others appropriately and respectfully, both online and in person, and it is the responsibility of the adults in their lives to do so.
At the same time, children and teens should learn how to handle being bullied in an online setting and respond as well as they can. The best thing to do is not respond to the cyberbully attack and tell a trusted adult about it immediately. Students should remember who they are and stand firm in that and in what they believe, and they should be encouraged to ignore what a bully says to them as best as they can. The stronger the mental fortitude of our children, the less power cyberbullies will have and the more the problem will begin to dissipate.
If you are an adult that learns about online bullying, you should speak to the parties involved and get as much information as possible. Speak to other adults involved in the kids’ lives and come up with a plan to handle the situation before it gets worse. Monitoring technological devices and social media accounts that your children have is also a great way to stay on top of what they are sending and receiving online.
What to Do If You or Someone You Know Is a Victim of Online Bullying
If you are involved in bullying, whether online or face-to-face and whether as a victim or as a bully, you need to talk to someone about it. Victims should not seek revenge or even respond to their attackers as that will likely fuel them to continue. Report whatever you can to the police, the internet service provider of particular websites being used, and any other adults or authority figures that need to know. If you are a student at San Diego Virtual School, talk to one of your teachers or a school counselor or administrator about the issue. You can get in contact with the school via their contact form, through email, or by calling. It’s best to have proof of the cyberbully attacks for your records, but victims should avoid re-reading the comments. If you are struggling due to online bullying, talk to someone right away about the bullying and the feelings that you’re having about it.