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Bullying is hardly a new concept in the modern world. However, the forms of bullying have changed drastically over the last couple of generations. Cyberbullying is a more recent term that includes the definition of traditional bullying but is achieved through technology such as social media, text messages, chats, social apps, etc.
The novel aspect of cyberbullying is that the bully can feel anonymous (although there is no true anonymity on the internet) and can remove him or herself from the personal connection with the person they are bullying. This creates an especially hostile environment for the victim.
The frequency of cyberbullying varies from one study to another, but is estimated to involve at least 15% of youth over the past year (some studies go as high as 90%). Another statistic of note is that children who are victims of cyberbullying are four times more likely to report depressive symptoms and have a five-fold greater likelihood of making a suicide attempt. This is a real problem for our children, causing significant physical and emotional harm.
As a pediatrician and a mom, this statistic really resonates: 80% of parents have claimed that they are “very knowledgeable” about their child’s online behavior. However, of that group, 89% did not know that their child had been subject to cyberbullying. As parents, that should give us pause in our understanding of our children’s online presence.
So what can be done? For starters, we should understand that there is no such thing as being too involved in our children’s ‘cyber’ world. When we can passively observe our children interacting with their peers, we can provide support and feedback to help our children perceive actions and words, good or bad, from others. Our children need our help defining positive and negative interactions with their peers and advice on handling those situations. When we negate that ability to observe what happens on a phone or tablet, we leave our children to independently develop those skills, which are very difficult for young minds to process positively.
Any behavioral changes in a child should prompt questions, not only regarding “in-person” bullying at school or extracurricular activities, but the investigation into cyberbullying. If there are any concerns, you should reach out to your pediatrician for more information and resources.