Bullying isn’t something new, but it has certainly changed over the years. One of the reasons you hear about it so much today is because it is happening in more places than ever before. In the past, children were often bullied at school or in their neighbourhoods. Today, with the increased use of the Internet, children are now being bullied in all locations and at all times. This has created an epidemic that must be stopped. Learn why social media bullying is such a problem these days and what is the deal with bullying and social media?
Bullying and Social Media
It wasn’t long ago that most people didn’t even have a computer in their own homes. Just a generation ago, computers were virtually unheard of and the Internet didn’t exist. Today, computers are in just about every home, as well as most schools, giving kids access to the technology they’ve never had before. While this is a useful tool to help them grow and learn, it also brings dangers that can lead to bullying and other issues. For this reason, it is essential for parents to understand how young people use the Internet. This way parents can educate their children about safe Internet use.
What Constitutes Bullying on Social Media?
According to research by the Pew Research Center, 92 per cent of American teens go online every day. Social media is one of the most used types of websites by teenagers. Connecting with other people can be a great thing, but it also brings many issues. Educating your child or yourself about which behaviours are considered to be cyberbullying is advisable. Bullying through this platform can include:
- Posting negative comments on pictures.
- Posting abusive posts on a user’s wall.
- Using pictures or videos to make fun of another user.
- Using social media to stalk.
- Hacking an account or fraudulently making posts as though another wrote them.
Many of the acts of bullying on social media are similar to what they would be in a real-life situation, only in digital form. The impact of the problem is also similar.
Facebook and Social Media Bullying
A significant amount of social media bullying takes place on Facebook. This is due to many factors including its widespread popularity and its capacity to share photos and other media.
In fact, according to a report by the Washington Post, nine out of 10 teen Facebook users have reported they have witnessed bullying on this social media site. A report by Ditch the Label also showed that 54 per cent of those surveyed claimed to experience bullying on this same site.
Even if you teach your children to restrict access to their profiles to those they know and are close to, these social media bullying facts remain a shock. Even people who care about your children have the capability of hurting them through this social media outlet.
Other Social Media Sites and Social Media Bullying
Other social media sites are also becoming the breeding ground for bullying behaviour.
- Twitter is a hotbed of bullying content, with up to 15,000 bullying tweets shared daily according to Huffington Post.
- Ask.FM has caused serious problems among teenagers, resulting in bullying behaviour that has been difficult to stop. The suicide of a 14-year-old girl in 2013 was linked to bullying on ask.fm. The new owners pledged to end the bullying or shut down the site altogether.
- Snapchat has faced similar controversy, having been implicated in contributing to the suicide of a bullied teenager.
Why is it Easier to Bully on Social Media?
No matter how careful you or your children are with privacy settings, it can be hard to completely remove the risk of cyberbullying. When children, and many adults for that matter, aren’t talking to someone face-to-face, they are less likely to feel the implications of what they are really saying. It is too easy to say something you wouldn’t say to someone if they were standing right in front of you. According to Dave Harte, an expert in media communication from Birmingham City University:
“Discussions in these groups would have followed a similar pattern. People with shared interests come together but often they would disintegrate because the Internet gives people the opportunity to say things that you wouldn’t say face to face,”
In addition, it can be difficult to portray tone and intent in written words. This means something can easily be taken the wrong way.
Another challenge with social media bullying is that it can be impossible for teens to escape from it. 91 per cent of teens in the USA have access to a cell phone, tablet or other portable devices. This constant connection to the world through electronic media creates the platform for constant bullying. Children have no place to go to get away from the harassment. Children do not want to be left out of social networking, so it’s not always as simple as saying “just turn it off”.
What Can Children Do?
Because bullying on social media has become such a serious problem, it is important to teach your children what they can do to protect themselves. One of the most useful things to do is to ensure your child has the appropriate privacy settings. This prevents random people from accessing their profiles. However, this doesn’t mean your child is fully protected from the problem. Many children are bullied by people they consider to be friends. In addition to privacy settings, your child should also:
- Unfriend anyone who posts negative posts and is harassing them.
- Block anyone who continues to send messages.
- Report the individual to the social media site.
- Avoid responding to messages from a bully.
- Let an adult know what is happening.
- Keep records of the behaviour for proof, if needed.
Understanding the Negative Effects of Social Media Bullying
The effects of social media bullying can be more subtle than physical bullying, especially at the beginning. However, if allowed to continue, the end results can be tragic. One of the most serious consequences is teen suicide. The increase in bullying on social media and other online platforms has caused the instances of teen suicide to rise dramatically. This is because many teens don’t have the emotional capacity to deal with severe bullying.
While suicide is the most serious consequence of these actions, it isn’t the only one. Online bullying can cause self-esteem issues, depression, self-harm, and feelings of isolation that can damage performance in school, social skills, and general well-being.
Identifying the Signs of Social Media Bullying
The best thing parents can do, besides teaching their children what they can do to fight back, is to watch for signs their child may be a victim. Most cyberbullying victims exhibit clear signs that they have been victimized. These signs can include:
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Losing interest in activities they were once passionate about.
- Dramatic change in sleeping habits, either more or less.
- Dramatic change in apatite, either more or less.
If your child shows any signs that are different from his or her normal behaviour, it may be time for a serious talk before problems get worse.
So what can parents do about children and social media bullying? Do whatever it takes to build your child’s self-esteem. Put them in sports, or another activity they are good at and enjoy doing. Give them responsibilities and then praise them when do their best to handle them. Never punish your children by berating or calling them names. Be kind, but firm, and show that you trust them to do well. Your child’s self-esteem can be there to protect them when you’re not around. Someday your child’s inner strength may have to be there for someone who doesn’t have any. And that could save a life.
Social media bullying may be one of the newer forms of bullying, but it could prove to be one of the most serious. The fact that children and teens have a difficult time getting away from it can lead to dire consequences that can have lasting effects. For this reason, it is important for parents, educators and other adults to find ways to help children learn how to interact in a friendly manner and what they can do to fight against bullies. With the right guidance, cyberbullying in all its forms can be reduced and potentially even stopped, giving kids a safer childhood.