Cyberbullying is an issue that affects us all: grown men and women, teenagers, tweens and even children. It can eat up a shocking number of mental and physical hours each day, especially given the amount of time we spend with screens.
No one is immune. Whether you are a female gamer, a celebrity or just a kid trying to navigate the social scene on Instagram, you can encounter unparalleled levels of viciousness online.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly 8 hours a day with different media, and older children and teens spend more than 11 hours per day. About 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, and nearly all teenagers use text messaging.
As a result, kids and adults can access social media at any time of day or night. In speaking recently with a group of young teens, they told me how thoughts of social media often consume their time. Anxious curiosity compels the students to seek out what others are saying about them.
"And even if no one is saying anything bad about me, I feel stressed out when I see pictures on Instagram of people hanging out and I'm not there," explained Ellen, an eighth grader at a Chicagoland school.
This phenomenon is called FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, and it affects both kids and adults who watch other people post about their social interactions online. Even the kids and adults who have active, healthy social lives can feel paranoid about not being included in online conversations.
FOMO is a separate issue from the victimization of cyberbullying, but both create anxiety and stress. These feelings can ramp up dramatically and include panic attacks and depression when you are being directly attacked online. First, take a moment to ascertain that you are actually being bullied instead of suffering from FOMO.
What Forms Does Cyberbullying Take?
- Sending hurtful or threatening messages about another person
- Posting sensitive, private information about a person for the purpose of hurting or embarrassing that person
- Pretending to be someone else in order to make that person look bad and/or to intentionally exclude someone from an online group
- Making cruel websites about a person
- Spreading rumors online or through texting
Justin Patchin, Ph.D., of the Cyberbullying Research Center, advises the following standards: schools CAN discipline students if their online expressions result in a "substantial disruption of the learning environment," or if their actions "infringe upon the rights of another student (to feel safe, comfortable, and supported at school)."
Even if the cyberbullying takes place on sites that kids cannot access during school hours, such as Instagram, YikYak, Snapchat or Twitter, the school can take action if the effects of the cyberbullying spill over into the school environment.
Cyberbullying Intervention: Top Ten Steps to Take If Digital Attacks Are Happening
If you end up in a hostile situation, it can feel very overwhelming. Having a plan can help you restore some control. Here are the top ten steps you or your child should take in response to being cyberbullied:
1. Disengage immediately. Bullies want a direct reaction, and if you retaliate, this behavior can make you culpable too.
2. Print out the evidence immediately before others can erase it. Be sure to do this before reporting the bullying. Download copies of any YouTube videos as evidence before the YouTube user who uploaded it can delete it.
3. Block/delete/ban the bullies.
4. Report bullying to the site or network on which it occurs. They may deactivate the bully's user account.
5. Consult an attorney to assess if there is a legal case.
6. Take the proof to the school, the workplace and if necessary, the police.
7. Monitor yourself or the target for signs of overwhelming depression or anxiety, and seek out counseling if necessary.
8. Help a target get involved in the "real world" and see real friends.
9. Have the target join a support group for kids or adults who have been cyberbullied.
10. Do not sleep with your phone in your room.
Digital Allies: Steps to Take If You Witness A Friend Being Cyberbullied
Kids who click "like" on a mean social media post or who retweet a cruel Tweet are just as guilty as the person who created the content. Here are some tips for how kids can act as an ally instead of as a participant or a bystander.
- Focus on supporting the person who is being attacked instead of launching a retaliatory attack against the aggressor. The goal is to make a bullied person feel better, not to start an online war that turns into real-life violence and aggression.
- Ask your child to reach out to the target and offer empathy or a listening ear. Even a kind text message makes a huge difference.
- Have your child take a screen shot of the bullying. Evidence is critical.
- Have your child report the bullying to the school.
The most important thing you or your child can do is remind a bullied person that things will eventually improve. The current scandal of the day will pass, as painful as it feels right now. You can get through this; you are strong.
Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs To Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins). Follow her work on Twitter and Facebook.