According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyber-bullying is “when teens use the internet, cell phones or other devices to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.”
In the age of social media, cyber-bullying has become all too common. It can cause teens to feel hurt, ashamed, embarrassed, depressed, alone, misunderstood and/or angry. In more extreme cases, it can and has led to suicide, when the teen feels there is no other way to escape.
With the prevalence of technology, bullying is no longer confined to face-to-face interactions – it can occur twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, making it a far more invasive problem. The only way to completely avoid cyber-bullying is to turn off all electronics. However, not having access to electronics can make a teen feel isolated from his/her peers (since this is a major form of communication) and can interfere with his/her schoolwork, making this an unrealistic option.
Technology also makes it far too easy to say cruel and hurtful things to others. Bullying teens feel protected behind a screen and are far bolder in their statements because of this. Unfortunately, once a recipient reads a hurtful message, it can be very difficult to forget and move past, even if the message is deleted.
Many times teens are impulsive and will send messages or images without considering potential consequences. A thought comes to mind and is sent off as fast as it takes to press “send” on any device. Even if it is regretted later, the digital remnant remains.
Another troubling factor is that teens can cyber-bully anonymously. Without the fear of others knowing who they are, they are free to say things they never would otherwise say. It is easy for teens to say anything they want when there is no need to take accountability for their statements.
Furthermore, when teens post mean comments anonymously, the recipient often assumes everyone feels this way about him/her. This is not true. The negative comment only reflects that person and what he/she was feeling at that given moment. However, since negative messages tend to be posted more often than positive ones, and negative messages elicit a stronger emotional response from the recipient, it makes it hard for a teen to keep a realistic perspective.
Websites such as ask.fm make cyber-bullying especially easy by allowing teens to post harmful and inappropriate comments or questions anonymously. Teens create accounts on these websites because they are curious as to what others think of them. Not surprisingly, many of these comments end up being negative. Although difficult to understand, a lot of teens keep their accounts and leave sites up even after hurtful comments have been made. This could be because the teen wants attention from peers (even if it is negative), hopes the comments will become more positive over time, or wants encouragement and support from friends after negative comments are posted.
So, what can you do as a parent?
Speak with your teen about internet safety and what is and is not appropriate to post online. It is important to know what sites your teen visits and determine if he/she is using these sites responsibly. Require that your teen delete an account if it is affecting him/her negatively or if there is an excessive amount of negative content. Websites/apps to pay particular attention to are: ask.fm, spring.me, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter. When these websites are used as intended, they can be great ways for teens to feel connected to friends and peers, but unfortunately, many times they are used in harmful ways. Take a look at your teen’s accounts to determine how he/she is using these sites.
Encourage open communication with your teen. You want your teen to feel comfortable talking to you if he/she is being cyber-bullied. Facilitate conversations on a regular basis about how things are going with your teen, with his/her friends, with peers and with school. Many times teens fear that their parents will overreact if they tell them what’s going on (i.e. call other parents, take away internet privileges). It is important to be supportive and sensitive to your teen’s feelings without judgment. Ask your teen if he/she wants you to help find a solution or if he/she would just like you to listen and be supportive. Keep an open mind and really try to see things from your teen’s perspective. Sometimes action needs to be taken, but it is important that your teen knows that you are there for them and are on their side.
Be a good role model for your teen. Show respect for your teen and others. Your teen will see how you interact with both friends and strangers alike and will learn what is and is not appropriate from you. Encourage your teen to post positive things through text, video or messages and to set a good example for those around them. At the end of the day, you as a parent have more influence than you think.
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
How would you start a conversation with your teen about cyber-bullying and his/her use of social media?
What would you do if you believed social media was negatively affecting your teen?
What steps would you take if you knew your teen was being cyber-bullied?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.