Chelsie Swenson, MS, NC
For many years, bullying has been a topic in communities and schools and combating bullying has long been a mission. However, with the increasing presence of social media in our lives, bullying has now taken on a form that often goes under the radar and much of the time unaddressed. This type of bullying is called Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can range from texting rude comments, posting embarrassing or unwanted pictures of someone, using social media to spread false rumors about a person, or manipulating someone else’s social media account to send out embarrassing information. A website dedicated to fighting bullying, http://www.stopbullying.gov/, lists three reasons why cyberbullying can actually be worse than the traditional type of in-person bullying we have fought against:
- Cyberbullying can happen day or night, even when the person is alone
- Cyberbullying can be anonymous and untraceable while reaching a larger audience
- Once a message or picture has been posted it can be difficult if not impossible to remove from the social media site and/or the internet
This same site highlights some of the possible effects of cyberbullying: lowered self-esteem, avoidance of school, academic struggles, and increased use of alcohol and drugs.
Our first level of defense is education. As parents, teachers, counselors or any other adult who has contact with children, we need to first educate ourselves about the problem. Moreover we need to educate ourselves about the various social media sites that are being used for this purpose. As part of this we may need to try out these sites for ourselves to understand how they work and ways bullying could potentially occur. We need to then take this knowledge and teach our children about the proper use of these sites, what cyberbullying is, and ways to handle cyberbullying if they are confronted with it.
Our second level of defense is monitoring. As a parent it is important that you find out which sites your child uses and gain access to be able to monitor this usage. Monitoring need not involve reading of all daily activity, but have a conversation with your son or daughter and explain that occasionally you will access their social media accounts to check-up on what they are doing. Parents often want to know what friend their child is visiting or who they are talking to on the phone and this concept is no different.
Whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay and has grown to be very important in the day-to-day lives of our children. Despite social media being used in these ways it is also important to note that it has many positive uses and has become an integral part of children’s social lives. Given this, we as a community need to be diligent in imparting knowledge of safe practices while using social media and helping to support those children when bullying does occur.