Between cell phones, social media Web sites, and online gaming, children today seem to have more outlets for interacting with each other virtually than they do for interacting with each other in person. However, with all of the good social interaction that is done as a result of these technologies also comes the bad. In addition to the physical and verbal bullying that may take place at school, cyber-bullying in the form of harassing text messages and derogatory posts on children’s Facebook pages is now commonplace. Even though it may not take place in person, the emotional and psychological effects of cyber-bullying are just as destructive. Since new media and cell phones are harder to track and monitor, parents need to take preventive measures that can help minimize the effects of cyber-bullying on their children.
How Bullying Affects Kids
“Kids that are bullied are likely to experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, unhappiness, and poor sleep,” explains Jennifer N. Caudle, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician in Philadelphia. Making the issue worse is the fact that such negative effects of bullying often go unnoticed, as many victims feel the need to conceal the fact that they are being bullied because they are embarrassed or afraid of further bullying. More often than not victims respond passively to bullying. They tend to act anxious and appear less confident. They may become quieter in class and, as a result, the bullying can become a hindrance on their academic success. Therefore, bullying is a problem that, if left unattended, can become a significant hurdle in a child’s development.
Connecting With Kids Online
Yet while the victim might be passive, it is imperative that the parent is not. According to Dr. Caudle, in order to prevent cyber-bullying, parents must be actively involved in their children’s cyber lives. “Communication with one’s children is the key to bully prevention,” says Dr. Caudle. So send them a friend request on Facebook. Play some XBOX Live—or another system with online gaming—with them. Parents who are proactively involved with their children’s interactions online are subsequently able to monitor these interactions more closely. Therefore, such parents will be exponentially more informed with regard to what bullies, if any, exist in their children’s lives, both online and off.
Creating Safe Spaces
Dr. Caudle advises that, in addition to interacting more with their children, parents should also take the necessary preventive measures to create safe places for their children to get away from cyber-bullying. “The home should be a safe place where open discussion is not only allowed, but invited,” says Dr. Caudle. Parental supervision and involvement in a child’s social interactions allows for a sense of comfort and protection from bullying.
Dr. Caudle also notes that one must not forget about the bullies themselves. Often, bullying is a cry for help and can usually be traced to a time when the bully was in fact a victim of this type of behavior. Thus, creating a safe environment where one’s child feels comfortable enough to talk about being bullied can help put a stop to bullying before it ever starts.