Cyberbullying, PTSD and Depression (Part 3)*
*In our previous two Weekly Tips you were taught about the emotionally devastating consequences of cyberbullying, poignantly portrayed by the story of Claire. Today’s Tip will provide you with some tangible steps to help the victim of a cyberbully attack.
Begin to Untangle
The statistics surrounding cyberbullying are astonishing.[i] Approximately 16% of students report being cyberbullied in one year, with a 43% likelihood of being cyberbullied during childhood; with one in four children experiencing multiple episodes. This has led to the immense popularity of songs such as “Skyscraper.” Sung by Demi Lovato, an ardent antibullying campaigner, the song is a heartfelt and poignant depiction of how a young person feels when faced with heartbreaking sadness and pain caused by someone who is trying to tear them down or break them. The lyrics relate to a girl who is “broken” and “bleeding,” who feels there is nothing left for her but is determined to rise up toward the clouds once again.
When you first notice an unexpected change in your child’s behavior and suspect that your child may be a victim of cyberbullying, the following steps may provide some guidance on how to assist your child in recovering from the trauma.
Develop and strengthen open lines of communication with your child to build greater trust and resilience in your relationship. Research reveals that one in ten victims will inform a trusted adult when they are being bullied.[ii] Be willing to listen to songs with your child that address the after-effects of bullying, such as “Skyscraper,” which demonstrates your willingness to enter their world and empathize with what they are going through.
If your child comes to you following their having been victimized by a cyberbully, share your pride in their willingness to open up to you, and be absolutely certain that you don’t “punish” them by removing the offending technology from their possession. This could give them the feeling that being honest with you was a terrible mistake, leading them to conceal future problems from your awareness It could make them feel as though they are in trouble, which is exactly the opposite of what will begin to help them recover.
Be cognizant of warning signs. Victims of bullying are at a higher risk of skipping school or resist attending school, falling grades, use of alcohol or drugs, and suffering from lower levels of self-worth and self-esteem.
Watch for increased levels of emotional distress (Depression, anxiety, irritability/agitation, sadness, and anger). Manifestations could present as poor sleep, poor appetite, emotional outbursts, increased isolation, and the like.[iii]
Take action in advance of a crisis developing by insisting that your child receive treatment from a qualified mental health professional. If you notice self-harming behaviors (cutting, scratching, punching walls, self-medication with alcohol or drugs), increased isolation or other behaviors that cause concern, seek help as soon as possible. These early warning signs of distress in your child can quickly escalate, and suicidal thoughts and attempts may develop if you delay obtaining professional help.
Develop an awareness of what your child’s online activities:
• Look for the sites they frequently visit and observe how they interact within those sights.
• Request permission to follow them on social networks or ask if another trusted adult could. By taking this step, you can monitor what others are posting about your child on social media. Ask for their passwords or invite them to show you texts, messages, and posts.
Implement rules and regulations for appropriate use of technology:
• Establish rules about various websites that are “off limits.”
• Place time limits on how much time your child may devote each day to using their technological devices.
• Remind them to be mindful about what they are posting (statements, beliefs, pictures, etc.). Other people can see their profiles and so posting something that may have negative consequences for them in the future may need to be revised or removed.
• Encourage them to keep their passwords private, even with friends.
The traumatic after-effects of cyberbullying may persist over an extended period of time for many victims. Encourage your child to report any incidents of cyberbully attacks regardless of whether they or a friend have been victimized. When these attacks are detected, reported and emotional support is provided early-on, your child can begin to heal. Early intervention is the key to preventing the kind of life-threatening after-effects described by Claire as she revealed her sad and frightening story to us.
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