When you hear parents refer to “bullying” in conversation, there are often stories of kids being pushed into lockers, eating alone in the cafeteria because they have been shunned by their peers, or being teased on the playground. With the rise of social media and smartphones, bullying has taken a new turn. Once confined to classrooms, hallways, and schoolyards; it now extends into cyberspace.
Cyberbullies make use of any technological mode available to them to inflict emotional harm upon their victims: including Email, social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc.), text and multi-media messages. Students can be victimized anytime, anywhere. Many times the victims are alone when the vicious emotional attacks arrive, which leaves them particularly vulnerable. Hostile images and comments can be sent with immediacy, seemingly at near light-speed[i].
Cyberbullying comes in many forms. It ranges from sending mean messages or threats via cell phone or social networks, to breaking into another person’s account to cause rifts between them and others, to sharing embarrassing images of a person or inappropriate photos[ii]. Here are some of the types of cyberbullying:
- Harassment: Continuously sending nasty or threatening messages, including sexually suggestive content
- Outing: Unveiling private information that was shared in confidence
- Exclusion: Purposefully leaving someone out of an event, game, or group online, to deliberately cause emotional pain
- Masquerading: Acting as someone else and disclosing personal information, intending to damage reputations and relationships
- Denigration: Sending put-downs or spreading hurtful rumors about someone
- Cyberstalking: Threatening harm and using intimidation[iii]
Anonymity provides protection for the perpetrators. Many bullies unwittingly create lasting emotional damage for their victims, placing a strain on one’s ability to regulate and process emotions effectively. Victims may also display impaired social behavior[iv]. Of teens presenting to emergency rooms with PTSD, almost half have been victimized by cyberbullies
*This is the first installment of a three-part series on Cyberbullying. Next week we will explore the story of a 15-year-old girl named “Claire” who came to see me after being hospitalized from a suicide attempt as a direct result of her being cyberbullied.
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