*Updated: This post was first published May 10, 2016*
From social media to online gaming to cell phones, today’s children have more avenues through which they can interact with each other virtually. That is why cyberbullying can be a source of significant psychological and emotional distress. Just like other forms of bullying, children bullied on the internet experience fear, anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Here’s a look at some of the effects of cyberbullying.
Children who are cyberbullied have a hard time feeling safe and in control. Unlike face-to-face bullying where a child can refuge within the home, cyberbullying has no such boundaries. Thanks to computers and cell phones, the bully can access your child at home just as easily as they can reach them at school. For the child, the bully feels omnipresent and there is nowhere to hide. To make matters worse, cyberbullying allows the perpetrator to remain anonymous if they want to. In such cases, your child has no idea who is hurting them.
Online bullying can cause children to feel ostracized and isolated at school. This situation is particularly devastating since friends are needed at this difficult time. Friends can act as a shield and provide comfort. The lack of friends creates a vicious cycle where the bullying progressively gets worse because the bully knows no one will intervene. People often recommend turning off the cell phone and computer when one experiences cyberbullying. Though well intentioned, this move can be counterproductive as it ends up isolating the victim even more. Remind your children to come to you when these situations occur and that you will help them find a solution.
Disinterest in School
Bullying victims have a higher school absenteeism rate compared to non-bullied children. The child will want to avoid school in order not to face the bullies. Also, if they perceive that the demeaning messages were shared with other kids, they may feel too humiliated and embarrassed to face their peers. Their academic performance can deteriorate as the stress and anxiety makes it difficult to study or concentrate. If not tackled early, persistent cyberbullying may cause a child to drop out of school.
Cyberbullied children experience stomachaches, headaches, poor appetite, sleep disturbances and other physical ailments. Severe cases of bullying can lead to stress-related diseases such as skin conditions and stomach ulcers. Children who are cyberbullied may change their eating habits and either go on binge eating or skip meals altogether. The changes in eating habits will often go together with changes in sleeping patterns. Cyberbullied kids may oversleep, experience nightmares or suffer from insomnia.
In extreme cases of cyberbullying, the child may experience suicidal ideation or even make attempts. Suicidal thoughts, also known as suicidal ideation, are thoughts about how to kill oneself, which can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration and does not include the final act of killing oneself. Children who are regularly attacked by peers through social media, instant messaging, text messages or other virtual communication channels, may eventually start to feel hopeless. Some may start to believe that the only feasible path out of the torment is suicide.
These are just some of the consequences of online bullying. It is important that parents and teachers create a safe environment where children are comfortable opening up about cyberbullying as this is the first step to stopping it. Update: You can also check out our 8 Tips to Protect Your Children from Cyberbullying for some insights and help on how to handle situations where your child is experiencing bullying online. Sign up for Bark monitoring so we can provide you with alerts when your child is experiencing potential issues on their email accounts, social media accounts, or text messages.