Cyberbullying is any behavior through the internet that is aimed at an individual or group intended to be hurtful and malicious. This is beyond a harsh email. Cyberbullying can include hacking into someone’s online account, publicly ridiculing someone online, excluding someone from an online group, or posting private information publicly through social media sites or texting.
There has recently been extensive media coverage about students who have committed suicide due to cyberbullying. This can be frightening to many parents, but the relationship between cyberbullying and suicide isn’t causal. Adults and young people alike are unlikely to commit suicide from cyberbullying alone without some pre-existing mental health issues. In most of these publicized cases, the students struggled with some emotional issue prior to and during the cyberbullying. However, ultimately the cyberbullying probably did exacerbate the pre-existing symptoms of depression and anxiety for these young people.
So, what can parents do to protect their children?
- Monitor how much time your child is spending on the computer and depending on their developmental level, only allow access to age appropriate websites.
- Always keep lines of communication open. A child or teen whom constantly is yelled at, demeaned, hit or judged will be unlikely to speak about problems in their life with their parents. Do your best to balance boundaries and understanding with your child.
- Be aware of any signs and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. These may include:
- Social withdrawal
- Physical complaints that do not respond to medical treatment
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Reduced functioning in school or other activities
- Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, helpless and/or guilt
- Thoughts of death and/or suicide
- If you think your child may be depressed or thinking about suicide, seek help from a mental health professional immediately.
- Get involved in creating rules and policy at their schools and with local representatives. Right now there are few laws or school policies that address cyberbullying. If this is an important issue for you, speak up and help create sound policy to address this issue.