Cyber Bullying and Depression in Children
We may be more aware of cyber bullying and its effects but it doesn’t mean it isn’t a force still to be reckoned with. The effect on children of being bullied is always negative and is fully recognized as contributing to a variety of mental health problems like anxiety and depression as well as other behavioral issues. So what can you do if you are worried your child is the victim of cyber bullying?
Most parents will be familiar with the trends and traumas of childhood. As a parent I became very familiar with the urgent and desperate need for the latest gadget, shoes, clothing or whatever. The prospect of being under the spotlight because you were different from other children was something to avoid at all costs. My daughter became the unfortunate victim of bullying for a time and despite the fact that she told us and then met it head on by speaking to her teachers (who took it seriously) it was clear how unsettled and unhappy she became. The situation was resolved fairly quickly but it left its mark.
What must it be like for children who clearly are different to others, or those who either won’t or can’t feel able to share their distress with others? As it happens I can shed a little light on this due to some international research undertaken by AbilityPath.org. For example, children with disabilities are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied in the United States. In one United Kingdom study, 60% of children with disabilities reported being bullied, compared with 25% of students generally.
There is also perhaps a need to differentiate between what me might regard as face-to-face or school-type bullying with cyber bullying. Cyber bullying takes a variety of forms and can be far more insidious. Prank calling, texts, social networking involving insults, the sharing of photographs or personal details, are all designed to hurt or embarrass others. Such activities follow the child outside of the school and into all other aspects of their lives.
As a parent who suspects that cyber bulling is occurring there are a few things to consider and steps you might take. Removing cell phones or access to computers may appear a quick and obvious solution but it may not really help. We live in a world where access to and use of such equipment is fundamental. It may also have the effect of preventing your child staying in contact with friends.
Children can be secretive and more so if they are feeling intimidated or threatened. Some bullies will make all kinds of threats in order to prevent a child speaking to an adult and this alone can be a successful intimidation tactic. It’s important therefore that a child feels they have the opportunity and the ability to share concerns with parents or perhaps some other adult.
You should try to encourage your child to block communication with a cyber bully or at least to delete text messages without reading them. It won’t be easy because the temptation to open messages is very strong. On Facebook there are a few options. It is possible to limit the profile of users, or block people as a “friend”, report to the moderator or report trouble. Of course there is always the option to walk away from Facebook or deactivate the account for a period of time.