Cyberbullying: Definition and How to Help: Hailee Lamberth. Kenneth Weishuhn. Megan Meier. Angelina Green. These names have one thing in common: they were children who took their own lives after experiencing cyberbullying.
Although this might feel like a deep and dark subject to explore, it is important that we understand cyberbullying (definition and resources). Instagram, Tiktok, Snapchat, and other social media sites and apps are quickly becoming breeding grounds for this kind of abuse. With 95% of teens in the U.S. having online access, the victim toll continues to rise.
But how can parents and teachers help those they love? And how can kids and teens help themselves and their friends? There isn’t a step-by-step solution. But what we can do is understand what cyberbullying is, the statistics behind it, and figure out ways to receive help for ourselves and others.
Cyberbullying Definition: What is Cyberbullying?
Stopbullying.gov defines cyberbullying as bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. This cyberbullying definition includes bullying that happens:
- Through social media platforms (I.e., Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok)
- In online forums or message boards like Reddit
- Through text messages, messaging apps, phone calls, or Facetime
- Through online chatting or direct messaging “DMs”
- Directly through e-mail
- In online gaming communities
Cyberbullying is intended to hurt, threaten, scare, or anger the victim and is often repeated. It can happen in isolation, but it often happens alongside face-to-face bullying. It often targets victims based on their appearance, race, religion, academic/intelligence level, sexuality, or socioeconomic status.
Like all forms of abuse, cyberbullying can and will look different for each victim. Cyberbullies often try to paint their abuse as joking or harmless fun but it is far from harmless joking.
Some examples of cyberbullying include:
- Sending cruel text messages about someone to them directly or to others
- Impersonating someone or ‘pranking’ someone’s cell phone
- Sending anonymous messages through a fake account
- Spreading lies, rumors, or damaging information about someone online
- Posting embarrassing photos or texts online or on social media
Other ways that a cyberbully abuses their victims:
- Writing blogs as a way to bash someone or intimidate them
- Starting a ‘rating’ website to rank someone’s appearance or attractiveness
- Tricking someone into revealing personal information for bullying purposes
- “Catfishing” someone into thinking one is romantically interested in them as a game
- Saying negative things to someone while playing live games online or on a gaming system
Numbers don’t lie, and according to dosomething.org, the numbers on cyberbullying are mindblowing.
60 percent: The percentage of children/teens who have witnessed someone being victimized online.
60 percent: The number of parents with children aged 14 to 18 reported them being bullied in 2019
50 percent: The number of LGBTQ+ students who have experienced cyberbullying
41 percent: The percentage of victims who develop diagnosable anxiety disorders from being bullied
37 percent: The number 7f young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who have been bullied online
25 percent: The percentage of victims who engaged in self-harm after being bullied
14-15 Years: The number where cyberbullying tends to peak. Suicide is also the leading cause of death in this age range
15 percent: The percentage of girls who have been subjected to at least four different kinds of abuse
1: The number (out of 10) of victims who will tell an adult that they are experiencing cyberbullying
Signs of Cyberbullying
Victims of cyberbullying are unlikely to share their experiences, even with trusted adults. This is why it is important to be aware of cyberbullying warning signs. According to Stompbullying.org, these include:
- Falling grades and/or school avoidance
- Increased physical complaints (headaches, stomach upset, etc)
- Depression and anxiety
- Trouble eating/sleeping
- Issues with emotional regulation
- Feelings of helplessness
- Decreased self-esteem
- Injuries that can’t be explained
- Suicidal thoughts/self-harm
Other tell-tale signs include becoming more withdrawn, extreme changes in mood, acting aggressively toward others, and no longer using electronic devices.
How to Help Cyberbullying Victims
What parents, teachers, and other caring adults can do for those that are experiencing cyberbullying is to three-fold and something I call ACE. It stands for awareness, connect/communicate, and extending help.
Raise Your Awareness
The first part of ACE is becoming aware of cyberbullying tactics and resources. You’ll also want to be aware of what is really going on with the victim/potential victim. If implemented early enough, the awareness phase can even protect children from cyberbullying before they fall prey.
- Be aware of how much time your child is spending online.
- Determine what apps and technological sources are being used by your child. Here’s a list of some to be aware of.
- Place appropriate restrictions and permissions on technology use as soon as children are able to access electronics.
- Find alternative forms of play to replace screen time.
- Monitor for behavior changes including aversion to school/activities and withdrawal.
Connect and Communicate
If you think there is a problem, you need to connect and communicate with the child/teen immediately. When raising your concerts, you’ll want to be sure to:
- Speak non-dramatically, non-judgementally
- Let them share (focus on listening)
- Ask them what they would like the final outcome to be (what kind of help do they want?)
If you’re not sure how to broach the conversation, you can ask questions like:
- Who do you talk to the most online?
- Does anyone ever get picked on, called names, or teased while you’re online?
- Do these things happen to you? Who would you tell if it did happen to you?
During this conversation, you want to encourage them to tell you immediately if they are being bullied online or otherwise. Explain that you won’t be angry and it won’t make things worse.
Extending help to cyberbullying victims is the final step of the ACE process. You’ll want address the issue with the following people:
- Your child
- The bully and his or her family
- School administration
- Medical professionals such as their pediatrician or physical therapist
- Law enforcement (if necessary)
This article by the American Bar Association has lots of good ‘dos and donts for parents tackling cyberbullying.
This cyberbullying hotline list is a great resource as are the following:
Dr. Mary Elizabeth Dean is an Author, Teacher, and Entrepreneur. She has degrees in science, a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctorate in education.