Written by Emily Isenberger
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will leave psychological wounds that never heal.” This quote from the Fairly Oddparents illustrates an alarming trend in childhood bullying that has caught the attention of school administrators and those studying mental health alike. Gone are the days of schoolyard scrapes and scraps. Instead, kids are now taking to longer-lasting emotional torment. And with the rise of the Internet, it’s just about impossible to stop.
For the uninitiated, cyberbullying is exactly what it sounds like: bullying in cyberspace. It runs the gamut of technology, from cellphones to Facebook to forums to email and beyond. It can be hate speech, sexual harassment, humiliation or any number of other intimidating and hurtful behavior patterns. Cyberbullying wasn’t an option for previous generations. Now it is, and young people are nefariously taking advantage of it.
Cyberbullying starts at the same baseline that other forms of bullying take. Kids will hurt kids, like it or not. Except with older forms of bullying, there were teachers’ backs to hide behind and the safe walls of the home. But cellphones and computers are ubiquitous: to protect children from cyberbullying, we would have to turn off all texting and monitor every email that crosses every computer screen in the house, on top of every message and comment on every blog or social network. Without joining the Luddites, the anti-technology movement, you are fighting an uphill battle.
Almost half of all American teenagers will have experienced cyberbullying by graduation, according to a report in the Second Youth Internet Safety Survey in Pediatrics. Both those being bullied and those doing the bullying go on to report higher incidences of mental and psychical disorders later in life.
Studies have demonstrated that bullies are more likely to have problems with hyperactivity and proper classroom conduct, as well as addictive behaviors like smoking and drinking. Those who bully in their childhood also stand a better chance at criminal behavior as adults.
Those being bullied are less a product of their environment and more a product of their circumstances. A perfectly happy child, after being targeted and isolated by bullies, often develops depression and physical pains like head and stomachaches. Because bullying is often concentrated at school, where it can take either physical or digital form, many students who are bullied frequently have greater numbers of absences than their peers, and 25% of students don’t feel safe at home. Neuroscientists have accrued data to support that abuse in childhood “short-circuits” brain development: bullying not only takes a mental and emotional toll, it takes a physical toll as well.
Though cyberbullying is a daunting challenge to overcome, it doesn’t have to be an issue in your home. Children who feel support from their parents are less likely to report being cyberbullied than those who feel isolated. If you create an environment for your children in which they feel accepted and open, you can help to make a safe space where they can speak openly and honestly about what is occurring in their lives, so if cyberbullying does take place, your kids will know you’re there. And with a supportive home life, those words can glance off without hurting too much.
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