The Digital Dilemma: Understanding Cyberbullying

In today’s digital world, the term “cyberbullying” has become increasingly common, especially among children. According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online. As a parent or guardian, understanding what cyberbullying is and knowing how to talk to your child about it is crucial.

In this week’s Wellness Wednesday, we shed light on the nature of cyberbullying, its impact, and effective ways to engage in meaningful conversations with your child about this pressing issue.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs through digital devices like smartphones, computers, and tablets. It can take place via SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Common platforms where cyberbullying occurs include social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, as well as messaging platforms like WhatsApp.

Cyberbullying can involve:
  • Harassment: Sending offensive, rude, and insulting messages and being abusive.

  • Denigration: Distributing information about another person that is derogatory and untrue through posting on websites, or sending it to others via email or other communication devices.

  • Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else and posting material to get that person in trouble or danger, or damage that person’s reputation or friendships.

  • Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secrets or embarrassing information online. Engaging in tricks to solicit embarrassing information that is then made public.

  • Exclusion: Intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can happen 24/7, and its harmful messages can spread instantly to a wide audience. It can also be done anonymously, which can make it particularly difficult to track and stop.

The Impact of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can have severe effects on children, impacting their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Victims of cyberbullying often experience anxiety, depression, and a significant drop in self-esteem. They may feel isolated, scared, and helpless. In extreme cases, the stress and emotional toll can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

The impact on academic performance is also notable. Children who are cyberbullied often show a decline in grades, increased absenteeism, and a lack of interest in school activities. The constant fear and stress can interfere with their ability to concentrate and perform well in their studies.

Advent Health lists the side effects of cyberbullying as:

  • Academic struggles that are out of character

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exclusion from peers
  • Fear
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Headaches
  • Hopelessness/powerlessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • New behavioral issues
  • Sadness
  • Self-harm
  • Stomach issues
  • Substance abuse (seen more in teenagers)
  • Suicidal ideation or behaviors

Recognizing the Signs of Cyberbullying

As a parent or guardian, it’s important to be vigilant and recognize the signs of cyberbullying. Here are some indicators that your child might be a victim:
  • Emotional distress during or after using the internet or phone
  • Withdrawal from friends and family or avoiding social situations
  • Decline in academic performance and interest in school
  • Changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
  • Reluctance to attend school or participate in usual activities
  • Avoidance of discussions about what they are doing online
  • Sudden changes in device usage, including increased or decreased use

How to Talk to Your Child About Cyberbullying

Talking to your child about cyberbullying can be challenging, but it’s a necessary step in helping them navigate the digital world safely. Here are some strategies to facilitate an open and supportive conversation:

  • Create a Safe Environment:
    Make sure your child feels safe and comfortable discussing their online experiences with you. Reassure them that they can talk to you about anything without fear of judgment or punishment. Emphasize that their safety and well-being are your top priorities.
  • Educate Yourself:
    Before initiating the conversation, educate yourself about cyberbullying. Understand the various forms it can take, the platforms where it commonly occurs, and the potential effects on victims. This knowledge will help you guide the conversation more effectively and answer any questions your child might have.
  • Start the Conversation Early:
    Don’t wait for a problem to arise before talking to your child about cyberbullying. Start the conversation early, ideally before they begin using digital devices and social media platforms. Discuss the importance of respectful online behavior and the potential risks of interacting in the digital world.
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions:
    Encourage your child to share their thoughts and experiences by asking open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “Are you being bullied online?” try asking, “Have you seen or experienced anything online that made you uncomfortable?” This approach can help them open up more easily.
  • Listen Actively:
    When your child talks about their online experiences, listen actively and empathetically. Show that you understand their feelings and concerns. Avoid interrupting or immediately offering solutions; instead, let them express themselves fully.
  • Discuss the Importance of Online Privacy:
    Teach your child about the importance of online privacy and the potential dangers of sharing personal information on the internet. Explain how privacy settings work on different platforms and encourage them to use these settings to control who can see their posts and contact them.
  • Encourage Positive Online Behavior:
    Promote positive online behavior by discussing the impact of their actions on others. Encourage them to be kind and respectful in all their online interactions. Remind them that what they post online can have lasting effects and to think before they post.
  • Set Clear Rules and Expectations:
    Establish clear rules and expectations for internet and device use. Discuss the consequences of inappropriate online behavior, including cyberbullying. Make sure your child understands these rules and knows that they apply to everyone, including themselves.
  • Provide Resources:

    Make sure your child knows where to seek help if they experience or witness cyberbullying. Provide them with resources such as helplines, websites, and trusted adults they can turn to. Let them know that they don’t have to deal with cyberbullying alone. is a helpful resource for reporting Cyberbullying.

  • Follow Up Regularly:

    Keep the conversation going. Regularly check in with your child about their online experiences and any concerns they might have. Continual support and open communication are key to helping them feel safe and confident in the digital world.

Cyberbullying is a serious issue that affects many children in today’s digital age. Understanding what it is and knowing how to talk to your child about it is essential for their safety and well-being. By creating a safe and open environment, educating yourself and your child, and empowering them with the tools to handle cyberbullying, you can help them navigate the digital world with confidence and resilience. Remember, it’s a collective effort that involves parents, educators, and the children themselves to make the online space a safer and more positive place for everyone.

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