girl being bullied

How Does Online Bullying Affect A Child’s Mental Health?

Sadly, bullying is more common than we like to think. Kids belittle and pick on each other for many reasons. In the past, adults often wrote off bullying as “kids being kids”, but we have learned that being subjected to this type of abuse can be devastating for the targeted child. And, now that computers and social media are commonplace, a bully’s harassment doesn’t have to be done in person – kids can be besieged by cyberbullying, too. So, how does online bullying affect a child’s mental health?

Cyberbullying can cause a child to have more physical problems (sleep disturbances, headaches, stomachaches) and issues with self-esteem. A child who is bullied is less able to learn and adjust in school and more likely to have “depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement, and dropping out of school” as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In extreme cases of online bullying, children have even been so traumatized that they have taken their own lives.

In addition, bullying also affects the child who is carrying out the harassment, resulting in a higher risk of substance abuse, problems in school, and violence in their teen years and in adulthood.

Cyberbullying Definition

According to the U. S. government website, StopBullying.gov, “Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.”

Does Cyberbullying Cause Depression?

An article on VeryWellMind about cyberbullying and depression in kids notes that, “Victims of cyberbullying can experience symptoms of depression including sadness, loneliness, insecurity, poor self-esteem, academic decline, feelings of not belonging, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.”

Because online bullying can be done 24/7, kids cannot escape it in the same way they might be able to avoid harassment in person. This can add to the victim’s depression and feelings of helplessness.

What Is The Main Cause Of Cyberbullying?

A 2012 study by Low and Espelage, the authors noted that there are “…relations between bullying behavior and more conflictual and harsh parenting styles…as well as low parental monitoring.” They report that, “it can be hypothesized that family conflict and ineffective monitoring would heighten bullying perpetration indirectly via (a) risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug use (AOD) and (b) impairments in social competency and self-regulation, manifested in hostility, depressive symptoms, and reduced empathy.”

In cyber space, people feel anonymous, so they often say or do things they might not ordinarily. Kids can post something about someone or put up demeaning photos of another person without feeling much responsibility for their actions. Plus, because the trauma is done online, they don’t actually see how their attacks hurt the targeted child, so they don’t feel the same guilt that they might if they bullied in person.

How To Prevent Online Bullying

StopBullying.gov lists the following warning signs that could indicate that your child is either being cyberbullied or is bullying someone else:

  • Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
  • A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
  • A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device.
  • Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
  • A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
  • A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.

For Parents

To prevent or stop online bullying, if you notice changes in your child’s behavior, try to:

  • Determine if it happens after they have been online.
  • Talk to your child about what might be going on. Ask who is doing the bullying and what they are doing. Is there anyone else involved?
  • Document the bullying by noting the time and social media platform or email. Also, take a screenshot of the content or the post(s) for proof.
  • If a classmate is bullying your child online, report it to the school. You should also report it to the social media platform or app. If your child has been threatened with physical harm, report it to the police.
  • If it isn’t your child who is being bullied, reach out to the person who is the target, if at all possible. Tell them you are concerned and offer your support.
  • It can sometimes be helpful to post positive comments to try to shift the dialog away from the negative, however this should be done with caution. You don’t want your comments to further inflame the bully.

For Teens And Adolescents

  • Don’t respond to comments or try to get back at the bully. They are looking to get a response from you because that gives them power.
  • Know that it isn’t your fault you were targeted and you don’t deserve to be treated that way.
  • Take screenshots of the bullying posts or content whenever possible and save them in case the intimidation gets worse. This way, you have proof of what has been happening.
  • If you are being threatened with physical violence, tell the police and your parents, as well as the school authorities.
  • Talk to your parents, school counselor, or a trusted relative or other adult. They can help you take the steps you need to stop the abusive behavior.
  • Block the person from your apps, social media, email, etc. Never tell others your passwords (even your best friend!) and protect your phone with a password or fingerprint.
  • If your friend is being bullied, don’t just stand by and do nothing or the bully will be empowered. Instead, stand up for your friend.
  • Never pass along negative content or messages – even if the person being bullied is not your friend.

Help For Depression And Anxiety After Online Bullying

Cyberbullying can cause depression, anxiety, PTSD and other concerns for the child who is targeted. We can help your teen or adolescent handle their emotions and the way they manage online bullies. Talk with a compassionate child psychologist at the Children’s Center for Psychiatry, Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida. Contact us or call us today for more information at (561) 223-6568.

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