Schoolyard to Social Media

The cyberbullying trend is increasing, and affecting children at school and at home.

Bullying has unfortunately become pervasive in the everyday lives of those most impacted, our children, and often with unfortunate outcomes. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that bullying occurs amongst 22% of middle school students, and 20% of high school students reported being bullied at school.

These statistics are alarming on their own; but bullying has now gone beyond school grounds. With the increased use of social media, online messaging, and texting, bullying is showing up on the very devices many rely upon, our smart phones, and on the apps we use.

The Cyberbullying Research Center notes in the 2019 edition of Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, & Response that 95% of teens in the United States are online. As more teens go online, their risk of being cyberbullied increases. This study also revealed that out of 5,700 middle and high school students, approximately 34% claimed to have been cyberbullied at least once in their lives, and nearly 17% stated that they were cyberbullied within the 30 days leading up to the study.

Heather Gaskins, MEd, a Diagnostic and Prescriptive Teacher with Sheppard Pratt’s child and adolescent services, explains that cyberbullying has the same mental and behavioral health outcomes for the victim as more traditional forms of bullying. Victims can often suffer from depression, anxiety, lowered academic performance, decreased interest in extracurricular activities, poor sleep and eating habits, and more.

According to a study of 5,700 middle and high school students:

The Good News: You Are in Control

Carrie Etheridge, MSW, LCSW-C, Director of Social Work for Sheppard Pratt’s inpatient and day hospital programs, recommends that parents monitor their child’s social media, turn off comments, and block users when necessary. Parents should also encourage their child to take plenty of breaks from digital devices and pursue creative outlets or physical exercise, both of which boast proven mental health benefits.

According to stopbullying.gov, only 20%–30% of students ever report bullies, but Etheridge recommends encouraging your child to tell someone when they are being bullied, regardless of the data. Studies show that having at least one person stand with a victim is often all it takes to stop the bullying.

Partnering with your child’s school may also be a way to help combat bullying, even if it occurs in cyberspace. Becoming familiar with school policies regarding bullying and reporting procedures is also valuable. Additionally, if your student is worried about reporting a bully, a parent can help by reporting on the student’s behalf.

Taking Action

It is important to remember that as the parent, you make the rules! If you’re concerned about your child’s behavior, talk about it with them and remind them how their actions impact others. Make sure you have full access to your child’s social media profiles so you can monitor their online presence. Implementing site-blocking tools and making device time something your child can earn through good behavior are other resources you can rely upon.

“The consequence should fit the crime, so if bullying is related to a phone or cyber issue, take away those privileges,” says Etheridge. “It’s really important to hold your child accountable; you can support them emotionally and still give them a consequence for their actions. This reminds them that they have choices with how they act.”

Your child’s school is another great resource. Talk to your student’s teachers; they will have additional insight into their behavior and can help fill you in on what you may not be hearing at home. These valuable perspectives will help you make informed decisions on how to best proceed with your child’s behavior.

“If cyberbullying is occurring while at school, support the school and don’t rescue your child—it’s important that the accountability piece is there,” says Etheridge.

Start with Communication

Determining the cause of your child’s behavior is an important first step to take. Etheridge notes that finding out the “why” will help you figure out your approach to addressing bullying. This may take multiple conversations or even therapy with a professional. The root of the behavior may be a self-esteem or emotional issue, including depression or anxiety, which can cause your child to lash out at others.

Through active partnerships with your child and school, we can all work together to diminish the impact of cyberbullying on our communities. For more information on the variety of mental health resources offered throughout Sheppard Pratt, visit sheppardpratt.org.