Cyber bullying can result in anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, absenteeism and lower grades.
By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
There are too many children who feel inadequate and have low self-esteem as a result of bullying by their peers. As society recognizes the need for effective intervention, bullying has become even more menacing because of technology.
Cyber bullies use emails, text messages or social networking posts to send an inappropriate or vicious statement which then spreads rapidly to numerous people. Sometimes a student sends a private message or picture to another thinking it was safely sent to a friend, but in the wrong hands it can intentionally or accidentally be forwarded and, suddenly, one recipient becomes hundreds. Cyber bullying can even involve sexting – sending a sexually suggestive or explicit message or picture via text message.
Some adults have made light of cyber bullying since it is not face-to-face. But for many adolescents, their Internet world is as real and as important to their social lives as school. And the effect is greater than for earlier generations when the awareness of a bullying episode was limited to the observers present in the hallway, or those who learned later by word-of-mouth.
Victims of bullying experience distrust, humiliation, embarrassment, fear and sometimes physical discomfort. The apparent anonymity of the bully in cyberspace increases the fearful experience for the victim who feels there is no place that can be considered a safe haven since the cyber world removes restrictions of time and place. Even at home (once considered sacred space) there is the potential for 24-hour victimization, where the victim might relive the bullying over and over.
Anonymity also increases the boldness as well as the type of perpetrator. Since there are no immediate consequences, the bully may be more ruthless because the negative impacts of his or her actions are not seen. You also see students who would not normally be suspected of bullying, including prior victims, who do things they would not do without the cloak of anonymity.
You can help your child to not be a victim of bullying by allowing your child to handle life’s small challenges. Provide instruction because many children require explicit lessons to know what to do. These life experiences develop a sense of competency and empowerment in your child, which will help him or her to not become a victim or a bully. If you want to work with your child on empowerment and assertiveness, see Empower Your Child.
Other ways to protect your child is to understand the technology so you can recognize a problem when it occurs. Monitor your child’s Facebook, phone and Twitter accounts.
If your child is a victim of bullying, take it seriously. Create a safe haven by removing the visual or audible reminders. Computer and/or phone use may need to be closely monitored. Help your child focus on current activities. Staying in the present reduces stress and fear. Breath work and meditation can assist. Encourage movement (exercise, dance, yoga, etc) to shift the emotions and help them to not get locked in the body. Bring family and true friends around to counter your child’s sense of isolation. Seek out professional assistance if the experience and subsequent emotions interfere with activities – sleep, school attendance, nutrition or safety.
Addressing and reducing bullying is important. Research has shown that the fear, social anxiety, shame, low self-esteem, and anger that bullying causes can affect a person throughout adulthood, often at crucial moments, causing individuals who were once bullied to stick with easy, safe or defensive choices instead of those that might be most beneficial. Victims of childhood bullying also often experience depression, anger or aggression in adulthood.
The kids who are being bullied often lack the self-esteem and confidence to let adults know what’s happening. They also worry that turning in a tormentor will intensify the level of bullying. Talk to your kids about bullying, just as you have the drug talk or the drunk-driving talk. Most parents don’t directly address this topic, perhaps because they hesitate to think it’s an issue for their kids. And if your child is accused of the bullying, address it as you would any other unacceptable behaviors.
Many children who are bullied are from a different culture, a different socioeconomic group or have a disability. Expose your children to differences, and model understanding, acceptance and friendship.
Let’s recognize the consequences of all types of bullying and reduce its occurrence in schools and in our communities. We need to develop more safe zones. I take responsibility to be respectful in my interactions and to expect the same of those around me. I hope you will too.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties; work or school related anxiety; ADHD; Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders; and those who wish to Remember and Become Who You Really Are. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit www. SpiralWisdom.net for more information.