Due to the pandemic, children’s mental services have severely worsened. Social isolation for children coupled with constant disruptions in routines is making children more prone to mental health conditions. In a survey conducted in November of 2020, parents with young children reported that their children had demonstrated increased signs of depression and psychological stress.
European studies have also demonstrated similar effects on children’s mental health. In a recent survey involving over 6,000 children (between the ages of 10 and 18), it was reported that 44% of children experienced increased levels of cyberbullying during the lockdowns. Now that children are going back to school, educators and parents have serious concerns about cyberbullying becoming bullying in real life.
The fact that most victims of bullying prefer to stay silent isn’t encouraging either. One recent study stated that 64% of bullying victims (students) never talk about their experiences, let alone report the incident. If you’re a parent, you need to be prepared for a scenario where your child is a victim of abuse at school or in other social groups but hesitant to speak about it.
Bullying – A Deeper Look
Domestic abuse or bullying in school are not rare phenomena. Yet, many educators and parents are unaware of just how common instances of bullying and abuse are. Most of us feel that we know bullying when we see it. But, it’s vital to understand how developmental psychologists define bullying. The most widely accepted understanding of bullying in developmental psychology is based on Dan Olweus’ work. He was the founder of research on bullying, and according to him –
• The first component of bullying is the imbalance of power. The bully can have greater physical power – age, size, strength, and other advantages. The bully can also have more social power – social hierarchy, popularity, etc.
• The second component of bullying is that it’s repetitive – not singular incidents, but rather a pattern of behavior that keeps reoccurring.
• Thirdly, bullies have clear intentions to harm their victims.
Bullying can take different forms. Although we tend to associate bullying with only physical bullying, bullying can also be in the form of – property damage, inter-relational bullying, and verbal attacks. More recently, cyberbullying has been the most prevalent form of bullying experienced by children in the US.
Cyberbullying is the display of aggression through electronic devices, usually on the Internet. Unlike other forms of bullying that have been well-researched, understanding cyberbullying comes with various conceptual and practical challenges. For example, identifying power imbalance or intention to harm can be difficult when the aggressor’s (cyberbully) physical size, age, identity, or motivations are not apparent.
Plus, people who perpetrate cyberbullying greater to reach wider audiences quickly. On top of that – cyberbullying can occur without geographical limitations and at any time. These factors make victims of cyberbullying more prone to mental health issues. Their vulnerabilities are heightened by the fact that cyberbullying can happen in front of wide audiences. There may be hundreds of bystanders witnessing cyberbullying without doing anything helpful.
These are the reasons why cyberbullying is of serious concern to educators and parents. The answer to the question of how common cyberbullying lies in the following statistics –
How Common Is It?
• In a recent study, it was revealed that cyberbullying is the most urgent online safety threat for educators across the country.
• About 37% of adolescents between the ages of 12-17 report being bullied online. Over 30% of them experience it more than once.
• Girls are 1.3 times likelier to experience cyberbullying than boys. LGBTQ+ students are also likelier to experience cyberbullying and bullying in school.
• One in five students in the US skip school because they fear the aftermath of cyberbullying incidents.
• According to a Pew Research study, 9% of young adults in the US post embarrassing pictures of themselves on social media platforms (without the permission of their parents), which leads to them getting cyberbullied.
Where Does It Happen?
• A study from Europe suggests that the main reasons why children experience cyberbullying include – physical appearance, online activities, and sexual orientation.
• Another study from Europe suggests that students who use social networking sites for 2+ hours per day are likelier to experience cyberbullying.
• Children between the ages 9 of 10 are likelier to be bullied on gaming platforms and chatrooms, whereas adolescents between the ages 13 of 16 are likelier to be cyberbullied on social media platforms.
• 42% of adolescents report experiencing cyberbullying on Instagram.
• 37% of adolescents report experiencing cyberbullying on Facebook.
• 38% of social media users report seeing instances of cyberbullying every day.
Why Does It Happen?
• Even cell phone restrictions in class don’t prevent children from getting cyberbullied. Schools with policies that prevent cell phone usage during school hours report higher rates of weekly cyberbullying, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
• In a recent survey, 9% of school students aged 12–17 said they’ve pretended to be someone else online with the intention of sending potentially problematic messages or posts.
• Many cyberbullies studied by the Journal of Early Adolescence say that their aggressive behaviors on the Internet increase their “popularity” in peer groups. Adolescents with unstable families are likelier to be both perpetrators and victims of cyberbullying.
• 31% of young adults say that their social media posts are misunderstood or misconstrued by their peers, which results in them feeling victimized.
The Broader Effects of Cyberbullying
In Japan, adolescents between the ages of 12-18 are likelier to experience future health problems as a result of being cyberbullying victims. The short-term effects of cyberbullying on students who are victims are more apparent. These children are likelier to experience anger issues, feeling of isolation, depression, and other mental ailments.
According to a program by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), the most common ‘direct effects’ of cyberbullying include –
• Tobacco use
• Physical inactivity
• Alcohol use
• Drug use
• Sexual behaviors (e.g., unintended pregnancies)
• Unhealthy dietary behaviors
• Behaviors that contribute to violence (e.g., self-harm, getting into fights, etc.)
Going Back to School – Should You Be Worried?
Starting a new school year during a global pandemic can be extremely stressful for students, especially the ones who’ve been victims of cyberbullying or bullying in school. Should parents be concerned? Yes. But, there are many ways of making youngsters feel at ease. The best one is by having open conversations about anything that might be making them feel anxious. Parents must also –
Know the Threats and Discuss Them with Your Children
According to the latest available data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 71% of schools in the US report at least one incident of violent crime every year. Violent crime includes – physical attacks, fights (without weapons), and physical bullying. Parents must ask their children whether they believe that their school environments are becoming more prone to violent incidents.
Parents must also be aware of the fact that discipline problems among children are directly related to school sizes. The larger the school, the more the number of students, so higher the risk of bullying. Schools with 300-499 students are the safest in terms of instances of school violence. Middle school students are also likelier to experience school violence – twice as much likely as high school students.
Children subjected to physical, sexual, or substance abuse by their parents are also likelier to receive and perpetrate bullying – both in real life and online. Neglectful family environments also prevent children from gaining the communication skills needed to reduce their exposure to violence. Since 1970, there have been 1300+ school shootings in the US. Parents mustn’t shy away from having a discussion about this important topic with their children.
Role-playing “what if” scenarios can equip children with the emotional and verbal responses they need to tackle potentially violent situations. Parents must teach children to speak in strong, assertive voices to people who pose threats to them online and in real life.
Always Keep Lines of Communication Open
Parents must check in with their kids regularly. Make sure they aren’t afraid to discuss any problems. Reinforce positive behaviors via praise. Instead of not talking about their bullies, teach them that bullies typically lack self-control and empathy. Tell them that their bullies are possibly victims of bullying themselves. Parents must always report severe instances of bullying to the school authorities. But, before that, they must discuss the incidents with their children as openly as possible.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
The best way to prevent your child from getting exposed to cyberbullying is by using technological tools to your advantage. There are several parental assistance software tools that are specifically designed to help parents keep an eye on their children’s online activities.
MMGuardian is one of the best parental control/assistance apps in the market. Install it on your and your child’s phone. The app will send automatic “Safety Alerts” whenever it detects any menacing content (e.g., threats from a cyberbully) in your child’s text and social media messages. It also offers a large number of other features such as app blocking, web filtering, location retrieval, and more.
Going through your child’s phone directly may make them feel that their sense of privacy is hampered. Taking this technological route to monitor your child’s day-to-day digital activities is a much more efficient solution.