By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
The internet can be a great learning tool in many ways. For one, students from elementary school all the way to college have resorted to the internet to complete the 2019-2020 school year as a result of government-mandated closures to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the internet also opens a special risk to children and teenagers called cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying involves using social media to make disparaging, hurtful comments about a fellow student, spreading rumors to damage someone’s reputation, and even creating fear through threats of violence. Cyberbullying can also include exploitation by threatening to release embarrassing information or photos.
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Digital devices commonly used in cyberbullying include smartphones, computers, texts, social media such as Instagram and Facebook, online forums, and online games. Chat rooms, message boards and email can also be sources of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can have devastating effects, especially on children. Changes in the behavior of a child or teenager are among the most significant indicators that they are a victim of cyberbullying.
According to the Megan Meier Foundation, 59% of teens in the United States have been bullied or harassed online. Also, 60% of students who have experienced cyberbullying said it significantly affected their ability to learn and feel safe in school. No wonder this is a major problem that parents and caretakers need to recognize.
Targets of Cyberbullying Are at a Greater Risk of Self-Harm Behaviors and Suicide
The Megan Meier Foundation also found that children and teenagers who are the target of cyberbullying are at a greater risk of self-harm behaviors and suicide. Around 18% of youngsters have reported self-harming themselves at least once. Students who are subject to repeated acts of cyberbullying are about twice as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.
Michele Brown, director of development for the Clarity Child Guidance Center in San Antonio, wrote about the suicide of David Molak, a 16-year-old Alamo Heights High School student who took his own life in January 2016 after enduring relentless cyberbullying. The family and others advocated for a state law against cyberbullying. Senate Bill 179, dubbed David’s Law, passed the Texas Legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Abbot in June 2017.
Even if cyberbullying does not put a child at risk of suicide, other significant mental health problems are likely, including low self-esteem, depression, problems in school, anxiety and conflicts at home.
Parents Can Better Understand Cyberbullying by Researching Various Social Media Platforms
It is not always easy for parents to detect cyberbullying, even when the child’s behavior can cross over into unlawful behavior at times. One of the best ways for parents to understand the cyberbullying threats to children that exist on social media is to research the various social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Connect Safely. That can help parents set guidelines for their children and reduce the risk of them becoming a victim of cyberbullying.
It is also important to educate young children about cyberbullying by talking about it in children’s terms. Examples might include referring to cyberbullying as a drama that someone is spreading about them, gossip, rumors, or arguments that they are having online with a peer.
Parents need to know what steps they can take to end the problem. Depending on the severity of the cyberbullying, utilizing the blocking tools found on many online platforms may be enough to resolve the situation. If not, it is best to collect and save the hateful content that is being spread online to harm the child, especially if the situation escalates.
In these situations, it may be helpful to reach out to school counselors for guidance. Every state has laws that require schools to respond to bullying. And though not all states include cyberbullying under their laws, it is a good starting place.
Depending on the severity of the situation and if threats are being made that include violence, local law enforcement is another valuable resource.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Military University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.