The Internet provides us with immediate access to our friends, family and significant others. In a matter of seconds it enables us to access vast amounts of information. Despite the benefits associated with the Internet, there are problems with its use, particularly for our youth. There are growing concerns over the vulnerability of young people to online predators, inappropriate online content including pornography, inadequate privacy, as well as cyberbullying. 

Cyberbullying is the intentional use of the Internet and other social media to degrade, demean, or belittle another person who usually has less power than the perpetrator. It can be conveyed through words, pictures, videos or sounds. Means to perpetrate cyberbully include, but are not limited to apps, blogs, instant messaging, chat rooms, social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, texts or emails.  According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cyberbullying affects 16 percent of high school students in the United States.  At Jackson Behavioral Health we have seen children who report being cyberbullied by school peers and even strangers who remain anonymous over certain apps and social media.     

The anonymity found in the internet allows for instant and widespread ways to bully another person. The digital record that is formed by cyberbullying cannot be easily removed, creating a serious challenge. Therefore, each time a child accesses the site where the bullying occurred, they can be repeatedly traumatized. 

Additionally, where traditional bullying was limited to face-to-face interactions, cyberbullying follows children wherever they have access to internet. Children can be bullied while they are in their own homes. To make matters worse, where face-to-face bullying is limited to a certain number of witnesses, cyberbullying can happen in front of millions of people in seconds. The damage to a child therefore may be just as harmful, or potentially worse, as compared to traditional forms of bullying.  

Signs Your Child May Be a Victim of Cyberbullying:

  • Avoids or engages excessively in using the computer, cell phone, and other technological devices
  • Appears stressed when receiving an e-mail, instant message, or text
  • Withdraws from family and friends or acts reluctant to attend school and social events
  • Avoids conversations about the use of electronics
  • Exhibits signs of low self-esteem including depression or fear
  • Declining grades
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits

In order to combat cyberbullying, it’s important that you communicate with your child about ways to prevent it from reoccurring.

  • If you see someone being bullied online, report it to a school authority immediately – refrain from liking or sharing it
  • Avoid posting too much information about yourself or others online
  • Don’t communicate with people who you don’t know

Use these discussion starters to get an Internet safety conversation going with your children.
Ask children:

  • Ever been upset with someone online? How did you deal with it?
  • Has someone ever sent you a mean message online? How did it make you feel?
  • If you knew someone was being cyberbullied, what would you do?
  • Do you know where to report cyberbullying on the websites and apps you use? Who would you talk to at school?

Research shows that Cyberbullying can lead to depression in children and adolescents. Some children have even committed suicide because of cyberbullying. If your child is a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying and needs non-emergent mental health assistance/evaluation at Jackson Behavioral Health, call 305-355-7147. We can provide an individualized assessment of your child’s needs. For immediate assistance for a child with suicidal ideation, contact 911 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Raul Poulsen, MD, Samantha Saltz, MD PGY-5, and Judith Regan, MD, MBA, JD, University of Miami faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry, oversee the Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Inpatient Unit as well as Crisis Services for children located at Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital.