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Cyberbullying and The Risks Associated with Your Child’s Increased Online Activity During Pandemic

By Lisa Elliott, licensed psychologist

At a minimum, COVID-19 has clearly upended our normal day-to-day functioning. However, for many this pandemic has had a devastating impact.

It’s reported that one-third of the entire global population has been in lockdown mode with school closures impacting an estimated 1.5 billion children worldwide. There are many things to worry about right now when it comes to keeping our families safe and healthy.

Now, we must also worry about the very serious risks associated with your child’s increased online activity.

One of those risks is cyberbullying, and unfortunately 87% of our children and teens have seen cyberbullying online, either as a victim or observer.

With that high rate of occurrence during normal times, there’s legitimate concern for increased risk of children experiencing cyberbullying. After all, most kids have increased time on devices, free time, and frustration.

To further complicate this issue, children and teens may end up suffering silently because they do not have the normal outlets accessible to them to seek help, specifically school counselors, teachers, coaches and peers.

Furthermore, the visual cues that are evident with some types of bullying are not observed, thus bullying incidents go unnoticed and not investigated.

It is critical for parents to be armed with information to help increase their awareness, know what behaviors to look for, how to talk to their child and/or teen and how to help.

Where Cyberbullying Occurs

According to Ditch the Label students identified the social media platforms they experienced cyberbullying on the most:

  1. Instagram (42%)
  2. Facebook (37%)
  3. Snapchat (31%)
  4. WhatsApp (12%)
  5. YouTube (10%)
  6. Twitter (9%)

The Impact of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has shown to have a significant negative impact on children and teens including a negative impact on learning, an increase in somatic complaints (i.e., headaches, stomach aches, sleep disturbance), an increase in depression and social anxiety, lowered self-esteem, negative impact on relationships and possible behavior problems.

Thus, it is critical that parents be aware of potential bullying/cyberbullying in order to help their child/teen cope effectively and empower them.

Certain populations are targeted more than others:

  • Girls (35%) are more likely to be a victim than boys (26%), according to the Pew Research Center.
  • More than half of all children and teens who identify as LGBTQ experienced cyberbullying, according to StopBullying.

What to look for: The signs a child/teen may be a victim of cyberbullying

  • Avoiding the use of computers/devices, especially those that have internet access – this is the biggest flag.
  • Exhibit anxiety when receiving a text, some type of message or an email.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends.
  • Isolation.
  • Increased agitation, irritability and moodiness.
  • Increased anxiety and feelings of being stressed out.
  • Exhibits signs of depression, fear or low self-esteem.
  • Increased somatic complaints such as headaches and stomach aches or they stop eating.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, possibly an increase in nightmares.
  • Declining grades.
  • Resist attending school and social events, possibly a change in friend group.
  • Skipping school and/or getting into trouble at school.
  • Increased behavior problems or getting in trouble at school.
  • In serious case attempting self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts.

Behaviors to look for that might suggest your child/teen is the cyberbully:

  • Stop using their computer/device when someone comes near them.
  • Secretive about what they are doing online.
  • Spend an excessive amount of time on their computer/device.
  • Look nervous or jumpy when they are online.
  • Become aggressive and angry when their online activity is limited or removed.

What can parents do to help?

Parents beginning from a young age need to have and encourage open and frequent dialogue in general about bullying and cyberbullying, especially as they gain more access to computers and technology. The reality is bullying is not limited to children and teens, unfortunately it is common among adults as well, so it is important to teach and model healthy social and emotional functioning from an early age. Be sure to talk about what bully/cyberbullying is and how to know when it is happening.

Directly ask your child/teen if they have been or are being bullied/cyberbullied, be willing to share either personal experiences or those of close friends and family so they realize they are not alone. Many children/teens won’t tell their parents that they are being cyberbullied because they are afraid they will lose their computer/device and Internet privileges so it is imperative that you communicate they will not lose their privileges if they are being cyberbullied. Encourage them to unplug from technology or certain apps but do not threaten to take away access.

Teach your child/teen tips on how to stay safe with technology including never sharing their Internet passwords with anyone except parents, never send messages when they are upset or angry, always be polite online – never say something to someone else that would hurt them personally, never put anything online that they would not want their parents to know, never post their own or others’ personal information, refuse to pass along any cyberbully messages and teach them how to be a good bystander – stand up for others and tell others to stop engaging in cyberbully behavior.

Parents need to keep themselves current on technology, apps and acronyms. They should also use parental control apps on your child/teen’s computer and devices. In addition, parents should limit data access and turn off access during certain hours, make it mandatory that you know your child/teen’s passwords and know who your child/teen communicates with online.

If your child/teen does report to you they are being cyberbullied these are guidelines to help you and your child/teen:

  • NEVER respond to any message, text or post, regardless of how untrue or hurtful it is
  • NEVER seek revenge
  • SAVE all the evidence
  • Report any issue to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), or social media websites such as Facebook, YouTube
  • Report any threats of harm or sexual messages to police
  • Report all information to school authorities
  • Block all communication with the cyberbully

Resources (with links):

Get to know Lisa Elliott

Lisa Elliott is a licensed psychologist and clinic manager of Cook Children’s Pschology Clinic, located at 3201 Teasley Lane, Ste. 202, Denton, TX 76210. Cook Children’s Psychology provides care focused on children’s behavior, from ages 3 years through 17. The Behavioral Health Center brings all services together in an expanded space that will provide a talented, dedicated team of caregivers, physicians and professionals with the facilities, resources, tools and programs they need to ensure that these most vulnerable children receive the high quality treatment they need and deserve. Click to learn more. To make an appointment, call our Intake Department at 682-885-3917.

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