There was once a time that bullying only occurred face to face or with passive aggressive notes. There was no internet, social media, instant messaging or texting and you could not play video games online with people around the world. Today, our access to connecting with other people is easily accessible.
Connecting with others around the world can be one of the most amazing experiences. You might meet your next best friend, your lifelong partner or a long-lost family member. There are many positives to this increased connectivity, but according to Lauren Naylor of Grapevine, Texas, there is one negative that could be affecting someone in your life – cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has become the easiest form of bullying because it enables the bully to hide behind a screen. The screen provides emotional protection for the bully allowing them to speak freely without the guilt of hurting another. Seeing someone face to face removes that emotional barrier making it harder for some bullies to belittle others. Some bullies will carry out their actions regardless of it being face to face or online. Children now have access to technology that connects us with others at a young age, and what many parents fail to realize is that this technology has the potential to have serious negative affects on your children. Often times, parents are quick to point out the positives of their children owning cellphones with access to internet and all too often forget the damage that can be done by others.
Cyberbullying has become a serious issue that is affecting nearly 43% of children, with one in four children reporting it has occurred more than once. What is an even more alarming statistic is that 68% of teens agree it is a serious issue and 81% of young people believe that cyberbullying is easier to get away with than face to face bullying. Roughly 70% of students report seeing regular and frequent bullying occur online, and only one in ten victims will reach out to a trusted adult. These statistics have been shared not as a way to scare you, but instead as a way to shine light into the severity of the cyberbullying epidemic.
As soon as technology granted us access to several different mediums to connect with others behind a screen, the probability of being victimized by a bully increased significantly. This unfortunately opened the door for those who were incapable of bullying face to face to participate online, ultimately increasing the number of bullies and therefore the number of victims.
As the number of victims continues to rise, the number one question becomes “How do I recognize if someone I love is being cyberbullied or being the cyberbully?” It’s important for everyone to understand the warning signs of both those who are being bullied and those who are the bullies. Below are the signs that Lauren Naylor suggests you should be looking for, if you have a suspicion that a loved one is being cyberbullied, or if someone you know is being bullied.
Warning Signs of a Cyberbullying Victim
1. Change in sleep patterns & eating patterns
Pay close attention to the sleep patterns of the person you are worried about as they may start to oversleep or not sleep enough. This is usually due to an increase in anxiety and is also a sign of depression. Children may experience difficulty at night and may struggle to stay alert and awake throughout the day, this is largely because children will relive the bullying when alone. Operating with this level of fatigue can easily affect a child’s school day, making going to school even more of a challenge for victims of bullying.
The victim may also start to eat more which is a sign of emotional eating or start to eat less. You may also notice a change in their food choices. The unexplained weight loss or gain is one example of how cyberbullying can affect a child’s physical health, and adults must be extremely alert to these symptoms as they can quickly escalate and result in more serious physical issues. Children may also experience unexplained headaches and stomach-aches due to not eating and sleeping properly.
2. Creates excuses to avoid everyday activities
Those who are affected by cyberbullying will likely show symptoms through creating excuses in order to avoid everyday activities that they typically enjoy. Lauren Naylor states that in children this would include making up excuses to avoid going to school, extra curricular activities or will be seen through attempts at coming home earlier than scheduled. Lauren goes on to expand by stating that in adults this would include making excuses for going to work and avoiding activities with their group of friends. These are classic signs of depression and will be seen as major red flags for anyone monitoring behavior. The most common excuse for both children and adults would be that they do not feel well, as this is a nonspecific statement that covers several areas.
A major warning sign that parents must be aware of is a sudden loss of interest in a child’s favorite activity or hobby. If your child is showing signs of withdrawal from their favorite sport or pastime, it is likely that they are attempting to distance themselves from their cyberbully or the reason they are being bullied – i.e. they enjoy a hobby that is not commonly accepted by the masses. In this example Lauren Naylor would suggest that you speak with your children and remind them that what they love doing makes them unique and they do this because they love it, not because others do.
A major warning sign to be cautious of is a child being nervous or scared regarding going to school. If your child is uneasy and uncomfortable being in a school environment when they previously were excited, means that your child may be afraid of the other students. In this event, it is important you talk with your children about what is upsetting them.
3. Stops using their devices & avoids discussions
In cases where cyberbullying is present, some victims will stop using their devices all together and avoid conversations about what they are doing on their devices. When bullying becomes a hard topic to discuss, especially when the individual feels embarrassed, it’s easier to avoid everything all together. You will notice this more in children when they give up their favourite games or social media app for no reason.
Children being cyberbullied will show signs of nervousness or anxiety when texting or using social media. Your child will constantly have their guard up when they are around their phone, they will become anxious when their device is within eyesight of you. A helpful management tool to measure anxiety levels is to keep mobile devices in a common area such as the living room.
Another sign that your child may be a victim of cyberbullying is that they are unwilling to discuss or share information about their online activity or social media accounts. According to Lauren Naylor, children who express increased concern with privacy and secrecy may be attempting to hide their shame or have you accidentally viewed the content.
Warning Signs of a Cyberbully
Equally as important as being able to determine when your loved one is a victim of cyberbullying is knowing how to tell if someone is being a cyberbully. Lauren Naylor outlines a few of the warning signs below.
1. Concerned with their status or popularity
Both children and adults strive to be accepted by reaching a specific status to increase popularity. This includes impressing the wrong group of friends or trying to do anything to fit in. Pay attention to how much they talk about their status or popularity. If your child is overly concerned with their level of popularity, it should trigger a response from you to monitor their online activity and ensure they are not bullying others online. Children will often lash out at others that a popular group views as different, in an effort to impress the group.
2. Hides their screens when others are around
A classic warning sign of bullies is that they will hide or switch their screens whenever anyone is around, in order to disguise what they are doing. As a parent you must pay close attention to your child’s behaviour around a screen, if they are working to minimize screens and switch tabs in a browser within seconds of you approaching the computer or phone, they are likely trying to hide something.
Another red flag that needs to be monitored for is children using multiple accounts with fake screen names and nonidentifying images as display pictures. These accounts, often known as spam accounts, are a way for social media users to hide their true identity. When a child is hiding their identity online it should be seen as a warning sign and you must investigate. Cyberbullies hide behind their screen, and they will likely lack the courage to use their real identity.
3. Refuses to be without their devices
Anyone who refuses to spend some time away from their devices is a cause for concern. Most children in the electronic age will express some form of negative emotion when their devices are taken away, but according to Lauren Naylor a cyberbully will become extremely defensive or angry when their devices are threatened to be removed. A cyberbully needs their virtual space where they feel powerful and free of repercussions, and when this privilege is revoked they do not handle it well. They may become angry or unusually upset about being away from their devices.
Lauren Naylor’s Final Thoughts
Although you may notice some of these warning signs, Lauren Naylor suggests that you should also be focusing on prevention, especially with children. The best way to do this is by education. Educate your children on these warning signs, the effects of Cyberbullying and what to do when it happens. Ensure that your children know they can come to you with anything to keep the communication lines open. The more we talk about this topic the easier it becomes to prevent.