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Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying refers to harassment and embarrassment of a targeted individual that is afflicted through the use of electronic devices. While bullying has been prevalent through generations and it is a problem that has continually affected children worldwide, it has been given a new platform by way of technology. If having to worry about schoolyard bullying isn’t enough, parents now have to contend with cyberbullying that torments its victims in the same way. How do you identify whether or not your child is a victim of cyberbullying and what are some of the effects that it has on children?

Cyberbullying vs Bullying

Both types of harassment affect victims equally adversely and are equally serious. However, in cyberbullying, the offender is not limited by time or location, and the audience is far larger than in classic bullying which means that the victims’ humiliation is viewed by more people, most of whom are likely to be strangers. Perpetrators of cyberbullying may hide behind a fake persona to attack their victims. For instance, they may create a false profile on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or any other of these content-sharing platforms or use someone else’s phone to text cruel or hateful messages intended to hurt targeted individuals. In classic bullying, the victim can easily identify the perpetrators but in cyberbullying, there are many cases whereby professional help is required to track down the person behind the attacks.

How cyberbullying affects children

Due to the constant presence of the internet, cyberbullying presents itself 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so long as the victim has access to an electronic device. This makes them feel trapped and strained, further increasing their anxiety and helplessness. In the same way that a victim of classic bullying will start to avoid going to the places that they associate with the negative emotions as a result of being attacked, victims of cyberbullying will similarly avoid spaces on the internet. This affects them academically as more schools turn to using technology in the classrooms and a student’s competency in using electronic devices may be hampered due to their reluctance in this aspect. Cyberbully attacks may involve distributing humiliating content about the victim, either to their family and friends, or just on the internet in general. This embarrassment will leave the victim feeling hurt and their self-esteem may take a hit as well. This in turn will make them less participative in class and less willing to partake in activities or engage socially with their peers. In the long term, the child will become more and more withdrawn and may even choose to stay away from school altogether.

Signs of being cyberbullied

In cases of classic bullying, the child may be reluctant to inform their parents of their situation for fear that they may be chastised or be seen as being “weak”. For victims of cyberbullying, the same stigma that they fear remains but there is the added dread that if their family knows that they are being cyberbullied, their electronic devices may be taken away. It is therefore important as parents to tread carefully when identifying and dealing with a child who may be in this predicament. Some signs that your child may be suffering from being cyberbullied include: - Being anxious when they receive an alert on their phone - Being visibly upset after using their computers/laptops or smart devices - Reluctance to talk about their friends on social media - Not wanting to use any electronic devices all of a sudden - Drop in grades - “Acting out” or behaving abnormally at home - Disruptions to their sleeping patterns, eating habits or social schedules

What parents can do

A child that is being bullied often feels that they are alone in this situation and that no one can help them. This is why it is important that parents offer a listening ear, a shoulder to lean and cry on, and comforting words to the child. On top of this, it is also crucial that parents show the child that they are actively working to assist with the issue by informing teachers and counselors at school of the situation, taking steps to block the perpetrator(s) online, and in more serious cases, make a police report.

It is heartbreaking when we hear of stories of bully victims who have taken drastic measures in dealing with the pain and hurt that they felt. While we cannot predict victims of bullying beforehand, as parents, there are steps to take to lessen the possibility of having a child become the victim of bullying. For instance, pay attention to your child’s activities online and learn more about their “friends” on social media. Screen the websites that they visit frequently and speak with them about the hazards that linger online and constantly remind them to not share too much information with others.