By: Katie Clark, LPC and Jennifer Munroe, LPC
When social media first took center stage back in the mid-2000s, it was largely intended as an avenue to help connect people near and far. In its most positive light, social media is a way for people to metaphorically cross paths and exist in each other’s lives, resulting in sharing stories and connecting as humans. Over time, social media has become more prevalent and widespread, which allows an individual in rural Mississippi to connect with an individual as far as Washington State or even Europe. However, there have also been unintended consequences. While the use of social media continues to be a heavily discussed topic, focus has shifted to bullying that can result from social media use.
The increased use of social media encourages individuals to share their lives with others and opens a door inviting the opinions of others. Sometimes those opinions shared are extremely insensitive and hurtful. In these cases, it is viewed as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is simply defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets”. Cyberbullying has concerns that set it apart from face-to-face bullying. It has the opportunity to be more persistent, permanent, and easier to hide. Given these unique factors, it can have much longer lasting impacts on victims.
A frequent conversation around cyberbullying focuses on what can be done when it happens. Most often the response is, “More needs to be done,” leaving the overarching questions largely left unanswered. However, there are things that anyone can do to help intervene against cyberbullying.
Four Ways to Intervene with Cyberbullying
Tell a trusted adult or caregiver about the bullying.
While this is often the first recommended response, this can also be one of the most difficult. In fact, only 1 in 10 teen victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. Given this, it is important for someone to speak up and reach out if they notice someone else being bullied online, even though it can be a difficult approach to take. Bullying often does not go away on its own and can worsen over time. By seeking help from trusted adults/parents/caregivers, solutions can be found sooner, minimizing the long term effects of cyberbullying.
Report the bullying.
According to a recent survey, 4 out of 5 students indicate they would be more likely to intervene in instances of cyberbullying if they could do it anonymously. This statistic speaks to the merit of many individuals but also highlights the anxiety surrounded by potentially making themselves vulnerable to cyberbullying as well. It is important for individuals that would like to report such cases of bullying to keep evidence it. Reporting instances of bullying to schools can help to address it and create preventable response strategies. When cyberbullying involves the threat of harm and/or inappropriate content, many social media platforms have policies in place to block users that misuse the platform. Lastly, someone should always report any bullying with the content of threat to harm/inappropriate content disclosing evidence to law enforcement.
Resist urges to respond to and/or retaliate against the bullying.
It is important for youth to be educated around the reasons not to respond to cyberbullying. Engaging or responding to someone that is cyberbullying is typically the result of what a cyberbully would like – the response can encourage rather than deter the behavior. Providing any type of reaction to a bully online can be gratifying to the bully and can allow the situation to escalate.
If you notice someone else is a victim of cyberbullying, it is important to not engage and continue to spread the damaging information. By engaging in this, you quickly transition from a witness to an active participant. Instead, youth should alert a trusted adult/caregiver to the cyberbullying they witness to help with intervening.
Practice safe online behaviors.
Privacy settings are in place to help protect individuals about how much of their personal information is shared. First, youth need to make conscious decisions about who they allow into their online world. By enacting the privacy filter and requiring people to request access to content, it can significantly reduce the number of opportunities for cyberbullying to occur. Second, youth should receive education on appropriate information to share via social media. Some content is best left off line. It is increasingly important to consider what information is shared keeping in mind anything that is shared is liable to exist for years to come – even if it is later deleted from your social media platform.
What Can Parents Do?
As a parent, it can often feel overwhelming trying to understand the vast world of social media. Parents should be aware of any sudden changes in mood or behaviors with their child. If your child suddenly appears withdrawn or is easily frustrated, consider checking in with your child to see what could be bothering them. Additionally, it is important to monitor what social media apps your children use. Simply by “following” your child and having access to their content can help you monitor their output. Lastly, if you notice your child is a victim of cyberbullying, help your child walk through the above interventions. With your support to intervene, you can help empower your child to take appropriate action in response to cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can be an overwhelming experience and should not be handled alone. Individuals that experience bullying should always tap into their support system as well as trusted friends and family.
It can be very helpful to speak with a counselor or mental health professional if your child has encountered cyberbullying or participated in it. A trained and compassionate mental health professional can assist in both of these cases in various ways that can be supportive: self esteem work, social skills work, impulse control, anger management, and ways to appropriately express thoughts and feelings. It would be important for counselors to assess for underlying issues that may be contributing to the cyberbullying as behaviors are typically fueled by emotions. Ultimately, parents and children having awareness of cyberbullying and how to navigate it coupled with positive support systems and the utilization of counselors can assist in reducing the intensity and impacts of bullying. At Sunstone, we have trained clinical counselors who can help support parents, children, and other victims of cyberbullying. Give us a call to connect with one of our trained therapists today.