Technology has transformed the lives of teenagers by making it possible to do everything from research for a school project to making friends with just a few swipes of their fingers. Unfortunately, every good thing often comes with negative consequences, and cyber bullying is one of the darker sides of the internet that no one quite predicted. While bullies have always existed in the world, cyber bullying takes it to a whole new level by providing a public arena in which a teen can face the deepest humiliation. Due to the serious short- and long- term effects that cyber bullying can have on a teenager’s well-being, every adult and teen should be aware of how to recognize harmful behavior online and stop it from happening.
Types of Cyber Bullying
Simply put, cyber bullying occurs when a person willingly and repeatedly attempts to cause harm to another person using their computer, smartphone or other technological device that has access to the internet. By purposefully inflicting harm online, they remove the personal element of bullying and instead involve an entire community of other people. This may be done when a cyber bully posts embarrassing pictures for others to view and comment on, or cyber bullying can take the form of rude comments that are designed to harass the teenager. Sometimes, there is a group of cyber bullies that all attack a single individual at once, which can increase the pain. It is also common for cyber bullying to accompany other types of abuse. For example, a teenager who is the victim of domestic abuse may be threatened with the public posting of embarrassing pictures if they try to leave the relationship.
Ways Cyber Bullying Has Increased the Harm
When bullying used to take place at school or on the playground, teenagers at least got a slight reprieve when they could retreat to the safety of their home. Now, teens are able to access their social media accounts, which means that they never truly get a break from the harassment. The internet has also made it possible for a bully to spread rumors, humiliating videos and other types of media to a wider audience in rapid fire time. Sadly, it is not uncommon for a teen to go to bed one night and wake up the next morning with the dreadful realization that their humiliating experience has gone viral. The public nature of cyber bullying is especially painful for teenagers who may not yet have the maturity to deal with a situation that is quickly spiraling out of their control.
Early Signs of a Problem
Many of the earliest signs of cyber bullying appear to be normal teenage behavior. Parents may notice that their child has begun to retreat to their room or spend more time on the internet. Anxiety about going to school or public spaces may begin to increase. Alternatively, a teenager may suddenly shun their technological devices or stop hanging out with their normal group of friends. At school, teachers may notice their grades begin to drop, or whispers among other students in the classroom. Unfortunately, many of these early signs are missed, and the cyber bullying continues to cause more serious harm to teenagers as they struggle to cope in a world where even going online no longer feels safe.
Long Term Effects of Cyber Bullying
Whether it occurs on the playground or online, cyber bullying can cause serious harm to a child’s self-esteem and positive outlook on life. Serious depression is common among teenagers who are the victims of online bullying. When the bullying is focused upon a child’s appearance, they may begin to experience eating and anxiety disorders. As an attempt to escape the pain of being bullied, some teenagers turn to drugs and drinking to the point that they even become addicted. Social media addiction is another consequence of cyber bullying that happens when a teen becomes obsessed with checking online to see if something else has been posted. In the most serious cases of cyber bullying, suicides have also been documented, which is why even a single incident of harmful behavior online should be promptly addressed.
How to Stop An Online Bully
Stopping a cyber bully is sometimes as simple as calling attention to the negative behavior. In some instances, however, it may be necessary to take more drastic action. This is due to the anonymity of the internet, which can make it possible for a cyber bully to hide their identity and continue the negative behaviors for longer. Contacting the website is one way to stop harassment online, and it is possible to have compromising pictures of minors removed with a simple call to law enforcement. During a cyber bullying attack, teens may also need to close or temporarily shut down their social media accounts until the incident is over.
Ways to Support a Teen Being Bullied
It is important for teens who are being bullied to know that they are not alone, and that there are more people who care about them than would ever want to do them harm. Seeking help for the harmful effects of cyber bullying is important so that teens can regain their hope for a bright future. When serious harm has occurred and a teen has begun to experience depression or addiction, it is important to address the issues through proper treatment.
Due to the public nature of the internet, a teen who is being cyber bullied often feels as though everyone is against them. They may also worry that their humiliation is permanent since social media posts can live on forever online. Noticing the signs of cyber bullying is the first step toward removing a bully’s power, and taking prompt action will ensure that every teen is able to go to school and online with confidence that their mental health is always protected.
Author: Dr. Jeff Nalin, Psy.D.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. He has been a respected leader in the field of emotional health, behavioral health and teen drug treatment for more than 15 years.
During that time, Dr. Nalin has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.