Social Media: The New Playground for Bullies
Suicide is currently the third leading cause of death among our nation’s teenagers — and bullying is often a major contributing factor.
By William J. Smith & Stephanie Kent
Imagine attending your child’s high school graduation and watching 100 students walk across the stage to receive their diplomas. Now imagine that in every row of ten graduates, one of them has made a serious attempt at suicide? If you are one of the all-too-many parents that have neglected to take the proper precautions against bullying, that child could be yours.
Bullying and suicide
Researchers have found that students are 7–9% more likely to consider suicide when they have been bullied in school. With 17% of American students reporting being bullied 2–3 times a month or more, at least 9.5 million students in America are more likely to consider ending their young lives. According to the National Education Association, bullying has become so widespread that approximately 160,000 students do not attend school on any given day in order to avoid being bullied. That is 13 million students per year!
Why has bullying become an escalating threat to our children?
In some ways the dynamics of student social lives has not changed. Those mean cliques and lunch-money bullies have always existed. So why are the bullies of today having such devastating effects on our students? One potential explanation involves the evolving social platforms through which young people communicate and express themselves. In today’s technology-driven world, even young grade school students have begun diving into social media. Unfortunately, this form of social networking often poses a much larger threat to students than the “traditional” bullies of prior generations.
Why is cyberbullying more threatening than “traditional” bullying?
Traditional bullying may certainly have traumatizing physical, psychological and emotional effects on its victims. However, it is thought to be a more temporary phenomenon, or a shorter phase, in a student’s life. It may also be more easily eliminated by changing physical proximity to the tormentor via a change in schools or locations, or avoidance of in-person encounters with the culprit. There’s is often a point in the process of traditional bullying at which situation becomes public knowledge, prompting an authority figure to intervene. The overt nature of this more familiar form of bullying provides a deterrent towards certain unacceptable behaviors that would be easier to affect if an element of anonymity existed.
Anonymity is an enormous factor — elevating cyberbullying to a significantly more aggressive form of bullying. Easily-obtained fake e-mail accounts enable fake social media accounts. These spuriously obtained resources allow cyberbullies to believe that they can say or do anything online without fear of reprisal. Potentially devastating messages and threats may be sent almost effortlessly to targets all over the internet. There is simply no reason for a cruel individual intent on inflicting pain to filter anything they say or do through their “cyber mask.”
Additionally, this type of bullying has no time frame. Victims may experience attacks via social media throughout the day and night with little or no respite from their antagonizer. The constant and merciless onslaught can result in grievous psychological damage. Every notification received has the potential to be another crude attack on their appearance, popularity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or intelligence. Due to the complete lack of boundaries in the cybersphere, psychologists theorize that cyberbullying may have much longer-term effects on students’ psyches than the traditional means of bullying. It nearly always leads to a victim’s lowered self-esteem, heightened levels of depression — and subsequently — thoughts about suicide.
Cyberbullying has become such a widespread problem that a new term has been coined
“Cyberbullicide” refers to suicide that occurs directly or indirectly through experiences of online aggression. The term was coined in 2010 during a study of 2,000 middle school students. The research found that cyberbullying is at least as detrimental to adolescents as traditional physical bullying. Alarmingly, the National Center for Education Statistics found that 71.9% of students report being cyberbullied 1–2 times during the school year.
Cyberbullying is not a high school phenomenon
We are living in an age of tech-savvy children. Even toddlers are utilizing apps on tablets and other smart devices. According to a study of 457 randomly selected students (ages 11–15), 34.4% reported that they had been cyberbullied at least once in their short lifetimes, and 15% reported having been cyberbullied within the last 30 days.
Do not wait until your child reaches puberty to look for signs of bullying
When it comes to cyberbullying, age doesn’t matter, size doesn’t matter, popularity doesn’t matter, and appearance doesn’t matter. Many cyber bullies do not even know their victims, but it is crucial that you do if it’s your child.
There was a time the when protecting students from playground bullies was largely a teacher’s responsibility. The world has changed; and it’s a parent’s responsibility to monitor their child’s use of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and text messages. These digital platforms are the new playground; and the new bullying is more intense and potentially devastating than its predecessor. Please do not allow your child be the one in ten who makes a serious attempt at suicide because of bullying.
How to know if your child is being bullied:
- If your child becomes angry, withdrawn, or has mood swings and behavior changes after using social media networking sites.
- If your child becomes aggressive themselves after spending time online or after receiving an email or text messages.
- If your child abruptly stops or limits their participation in social media networking sites.
- If your child resists going to school or refuses to participate in after school activities.
- If your child shuns normal social interaction with friends.
What you can do if your child is being bullied:
- Talk with your child when you suspect they are a victim of cyber bullying or harassment.
- Empathize with their situation and tell them you will support them and take action to stop the cyberbullying and harassment.
- Ask your child to allow you to monitor the social media networking sites to determine the identity of the cyberbully or bullies.
- If you discover cyberbullying, on line teasing, tormenting or any harassment, document the findings and save them for evidentiary purposes.
- Most school districts have adopted policies and procedures to deal with cyberbullying and harassment and document them in their district’s student handbook.
- Determine who needs to be contacted, School Administrators, and/or Law Enforcement and call them immediately to report the cyberbullying and harassment.
- Report the cyberbullying and harassment to the social media sites that are being used to bully and harass your child. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and other popular sites have strict rules that forbid cyberbullying, harassment, and other aberrant behaviors by users.
Next steps for School Administrators
For additional information on how your school can maximize the safety of your students, administrators, and staff, click here to contact American School Safety online, or call us at 1-866-531-6560 to schedule a free on-site consultation. As always, we look forward to hearing from you.
Jerry Will and Clim Clayburn. “The Psychological Impact of Cyber Bullying.” University Business.
Valerie, Strauss. “New data on bullying: 17% report regular abuse.” The Washington Post.
“11 Facts About Bullying.” DoSomething.org
“Bullying-Suicide Link Explored in New Study by Researchers at Yale.” Yale News.
“Nation’s educators continue push for safe, bully-free environments.” National Education Association.
Kim YS, Leventhal B. “Bullying and suicide. A review.” PubMed. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
“Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students — Massachusetts, 2009” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.