It can be difficult to define cyberbullying because it's such a subjective issue. Teenagers are notoriously unpredictable but mood swings could mean they're holding in humiliation, outbursts of anger could mean they feel voiceless elsewhere, irritability could be pent up anxiety, isolation and avoiding friends could mean a weakened sense of self-worth and receiving calls from unknown numbers is almost certainly a sign of targeted harassment.
Your teenager has a whole internal world that you can train yourself to understand. If you notice that your child is being affected by online bullying, it’s time for you to step in and intervene. If you’re uncertain, please feel free to reach out to Lisa Burger on 083 266 0352. She is a social worker who specialises in adolescent counselling.
Look out for these danger signs:
Receiving calls from unknown numbers.
What’s going on out there
Take a look at an outline of cyberbullying on a few popular platforms that your children might be using:
TikTok : This app can be a really fun platform for kids but it does have a dark side. This can be found in the comments section which is open to all registered users often including anonymous adults.
Bullying can also leave the comments section and be more visual. Take the Skull-Breaker Challenge, for example. It showcases the perfect blend of traditional and online bullying. Three people jump up and the two on the side trip up the unsuspecting one in the middle with the aim of breaking their skull, so leading to the name. These sorts of challenges pop up all the time.
Instagram : There are so many tools in a cyberbully’s arsenal on Instagram. They can post embarrassing photos or screenshots, tag kids on images to insult them, post cruel remarks under their photos or add mean hashtags such as #Loser, #WhatNotToWear and #Ugly.
It’s popular for kids to create fake accounts on Instagram, not only to bully but to keep what they really want to post away from the eyes of their parents. You need to be on the lookout for this.
Reddit : This online community awards cyberbullying. It assigns “karma points” to popular subreddits, ultimately motivating people to actively moderate provocative content. So in a sense, users justify anti-social personas by saying it’s just the name of the game. A user by the name of Violentacrez admitted to creating subreddits filled with racism, misogyny and incest just to accumulate meaningless internet points.
YouTube : There are creators on YouTube who focus their online identity on being a horrible person and creating communities to bully people. Examples of such users include Leafy, Keemstar and PewDiePie.
The devastating effects of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can cause psychological harm such as:
Poor academic performance
Difficulty in forming healthy relationships
Showing signs of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression
Inflicting self-harm (cutting, head-banging and hitting themselves)
Turning to substance abuse for pain relief
Teach your kids how to handle cyberbullying
Have regular talks with your child: Especially when it comes to their online activity. Help them to delete unwanted online content, teach them how to stop harassment such as blocking or reporting a user and remind your children to stand up for others when they are being bullied. Reassure them that they can come to you for help if they feel uncomfortable about any online activity.
Monitor online activity: When apps have chat functions and a high volume of anonymity, you need to monitor their usage. Keep a computer in a common area, not in their rooms. Ask your children to show you their online profiles. If they refuse, this is a clear red flag.
Teach them about internet safety: Discuss online safety and set limits for internet use. Be sure to thoroughly explain your reasons or they will feel like they’re being punished for no reason. Before they go online, have frank conversations with them about privacy (keeping personal information safe), strangers (avoid talking to people you don’t know) and permanence (once something is online it might never be truly deleted).
Don’t blame your child: It’s not their fault, try to be supportive. Reassure them that you will work with them to find a solution.
Avoid threatening to take a device away: This only encourages them to be more secretive.
The aim is to keep an open dialogue with your teen.