One of the fastest growing forms of bullying, cyberbullying can be even more persistent and hard to spot. For many, it can feel like digital bullying knows no boundaries. With almost 30% of young people spending over four hours each day on social media, do you know how your child or teen is behaving online?
The YoungMinds’ Safety Net Report revealed young people are spending more and more time online. 61% of young people surveyed admitted to signing up for their first social media account when they were below the minimum age requirements, with a combined 73% of young people spending three or more hours on social media alone each day. Less than 10% of young people across through social media for under an hour each day, despite almost four in 10 saying what they had seen via these platforms has a negative impact on how they feel about themselves. For young women and girls, this rose to almost one in two (46%).
The report, which spoke to over 1,000 young people aged 11-25, discovered nearly half (47%) had experienced threatening, intimidating, or nasty messages through social media, email or text. While more young people said they had experienced offline bullying (49%) than online bullying (39%), 27% admitted to being cyberbullied within the past year. Over 60% had seen someone else being harassed or bullied online.
What is cyberbullying?
While non-digital forms of bullying may remain the most common, cyberbullying can be a particularly insidious form of harassment. Often relentless in nature, the victim can be targeted at any time, day or night, in spaces that they may have previously been safe from their tormentors. Anywhere they have a digital connection or access to a phone, PC, tablet, or games console, they risk being targeted.
Cyberbullying can include:
- spreading fake or damaging information, gossip or rumours
- impersonating someone online
- outing someone
- abusive or attacking comments
- inappropriate image sharing, editing, tagging others inappropriately, or using hashtags that can be considered offensive
Able to take place across many platforms and devices, common places cyberbullying can happen include via private message, online forums, group chat, emails, private or public groups on social media, apps, or through gaming chat features.
With the ability to reach wider audiences around the clock, all it takes is a few people sharing or commenting on bullying content for it to suddenly spread and have an even wider impact.
How does cyberbullying affect others?
Someone who is experiencing cyberbullying first-hand may feel overwhelmed, distressed, or embarrassed at what is happening to them. They may feel unable to seek help, or unsure of where they can turn for support.
Online bullying can become a constant source of worry, potentially having an impact on the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, impacting their relationship with friends and family, decreasing their likelihood to take part in social situations or events, as well as causing them to make changes to their physical appearance through weight-loss or how they dress. Their personality may appear to change, with increased feelings of anger, crying, anxiety or depression. In some instances, cyberbullying can lead to new or increased thoughts or acts of self-harm.
Why do people cyberbully?
Amongst children and young people, many report feeling disinhibited on social media. Some may have trouble remembering that there are real people, with real feelings on the other end of the screen. They may struggle to connect their actions and words with real-life consequences.
For others, it may feel safer and easier to embarrass, upset, pick on, or intimidate someone online as it can be done quickly with less risk of being caught. By not being able to physically see how much their words or actions hurt the other person, they may feel freer to continue these negative behaviours. Others feel justified in their behaviour. Trolling and cyberbullying not only give them space for their voice to be heard but can make them feel validated and powerful in ways they may not in the physical world.
Digital spaces can feel safer and more detached for many people. For young people, it can feel like the internet provides the opportunity to create separate identities with few consequences for their actions.
Many children report having multiple online profiles within the same digital platform to help preserve their anonymity and follow separate interests. According to the Safety Net Report, almost one in 10 (9%) of young people use social media between midnight and six am each day. With so many young people accessing sites through multiple accounts, at all hours of the day and night, the opportunities to encounter cyberbullying (or to cyberbully) are growing. For parents, it can feel virtually impossible to keep track of their behaviour and actions online.
This, combined with numerous problems with social media platform’s reporting tools (a whopping 83% of young people feel that social media companies aren’t doing enough to stop cyberbullying) leads to an overall perception that there is a lack of consequences for those who bully others online. Children and teens reported feeling that the burden lay with the victim to speak up, with many feeling that there were no visible consequences for those who engage in cyberbullying.
How to spot digital bullying behaviour
While we have all heard about cyberbullying and online trolling, few take the time to consider their own behaviour and if it may fall within these categories. Counsellor and psychologist Philip Karahassan shares his advice on how to recognise cyberbullying and trolling behaviour in ourselves and others.
If you are concerned someone you love may be exhibiting cyberbullying behaviours, going through the following steps can help discover any connections between their behaviour online and bullying.
Look at their behaviour online and offline. Is there a difference? Do they find themselves saying or doing things online that they wouldn’t in person?
Do they feel more comfortable online than offline? Exploring who they talk to and their motives for these conversations can be a good place to start to establish how they may connect to themselves differently online than in-person.
Look at the activities they participate in online. Ask what motivates them to connect with others these ways. Are they looking to build lasting relationships, or to validate their point of view? When they discuss things online, do they stay on topic, or find themselves berating or attacking someone personally if they struggle to articulate their view or become frustrated with the conversation?
Ask how they feel when speaking to others online. Would they use the same kind of language and tone in a face to face discussion? If not, why?
For all of us, our motivations for interacting with others and the way we choose to communicate online can be huge indicators as to if our behaviour may have crossed over into cyberbullying territory. Getting young people to reflect on the effects cyberbullying can have on others can help to highlight the ramifications of their behaviour, and encourage them to change it for the better.
How can you help?
Spotting the early warning signs and familiarising yourself with the different indications of bullying behaviours can be key in intervening as early as possible.
Talk openly with your child or teen. Let them know that you are here to talk no matter what. Making sure they feel comfortable and confident to confide in you, a teacher, or a close family friend about anything can make broaching hard topics easier when the time is right. Encourage them to speak up, no matter how big or small their concern is. Reassure them that there are people who love and care about them, no matter what happens.
Listen. No matter what their concerns are, try not to dismiss them. By taking them seriously, it can help validate and encourage them to seek out help and advice for bigger or more serious concerns in the future. Through listening and making your child or teen feel heard, it can give them the confidence to speak up, ask for help or advice on their own behaviour or others.
Be a positive role model. The old adage ‘do as I say, not as I do’ rarely works well for those who use it. Consider your own behaviour to others on social media and online. Do you have healthy discussions, or do you lose your temper and make comments you may later regret? Through demonstrating positive behaviour and attitudes through our online behaviour and device usage, children and young people can see a healthy way of speaking with others online that can help influence their own language and use.
Reach out to their school or college. Are there any specific cyberbullying resources or groups that you can access, encourage your child to use or take part in? Explore the options that are already available that you may not have realised were there.