Lisa Bahar, MA, LMFT, LPCC

Cyberbullying By Cammie Jones

Smart Phones, Computers Are Platforms for Bullying for Generation Z

They’ve been around forever—since the beginning of time: the bully. I am certain we all have at least one bullying story to share. It could’ve been on the playground as a child, with a “friend” at school, in a job setting or even with a family member.

Yes, bullies have been around forever but now there is another type of bullying that is taking over—cyberbullying. It’s another thing to worry about as we raise families in this techno-gadget age, and it is not something to dismiss as trivial. The media has definitely heightened awareness of this type of bullying and statistics support the need to address it.

What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is using electronic media to harass/threaten/intimidate another individual, according to Dr. Dale Peeples, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Georgia Regents University. He says that cyberbullying differs from traditional bullying in that it is more likely to occur outside of school.

Cyberbullying can take many forms according to bullyingstatistics.org, including:

• Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s cell phone or email account
• Spreading rumors online or through texts
• Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or Web pages
• Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
• Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
• Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
• Sexting or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person.

Statistics from the i-SAFE Foundation show that over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have cyberbullied someone. Also, more than one in three young people have experienced online threats. What’s even scarier is that more than half of these victims do not tell their parents when these incidences occur.

Signs of Cyberbullying
If your child is not telling you that they are victims, how can you tell if they are being cyberbullyed? “The biggest warning sign of cyberbullying is real-world bullying, so if they’ve had trouble with a peer, make sure it isn’t spilling out online,” says Dr. Peeples.

Lisa Bahar of Lisa Bahar Marriage and Family Therapy, Inc. in Dana Point, Ca., says to use your instincts to determine if something is not right. “Notice isolation behaviors, sleeping too much, possibly being around other peers that you are not aware of or have not met, notice the time on the computer and the sites they are visiting,” she says. Another tip is to see if there are any changes in patterns, lack of participation with school or other activities, as well as a change in weight—either extreme weight gain or loss.

Dr. Peeples suggests looking for social withdrawal or lack of friends, appearing tearful or upset, and being more guarded about parents viewing their phone or social media. “Also, their friends may tip you off, so talk to them,” he advises.

Preventing Cyberbullying
“The biggest step a parent can take is supervising social media,” says Dr. Peeples. “Start early on, so they accept these are the ‘ground rules’ for having the privilege to use social media in the home.” Also, teens need to be open to accepting their parents as ‘friends’ on Facebook.

Some other prevention tips are:

• Handing over smartphones while in the home so families can spend time together without interruption
• Limiting computer access to only the main areas of the home so you can observe from a distance their online activity
• Encouraging your children to talk to you, other parents or teachers if there is bullying
• Building their self-esteem by encouraging them to participate in activities where they excel
• Broadening their social support by engaging in activities outside of school like sports, martial arts, clubs, church, scouts, etc.

Dr. Elaine Leader, Ph.D. and co-founder of TEEN line, a Los Angeles-based organization credentialed by the American Association of Suicidology, recommends parents guide their teens to keep personal messages private, never respond to messages from people they don’t know and block communication from known and suspected bullies. “Report cyber harm to your Internet Service provider or Web moderator and save evidence for authorities to trace the cyber attack,” she adds.

Cyberbullying and Suicide
“For American youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death,” says Dr. Peeples. “All different aspects of bullying—physical, verbal, relational (exclusive) and cyber—independently increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

Studies at Yale University found that victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. “Up to one-third of high school students may have thoughts of suicide in a given year,” says Dr. Peeples. “Fortunately the act of suicide is very rare, but even with thoughts, you want to take action.”

There are many warning signs of suicide according to Dr. Peeples and bullyingstatistics.com including:

• Showing signs of depression. Look for depressed mood, irritability, social withdrawal, loss of interest in fun activities, changes in sleep or appetite, fatigue, and poor concentration and declining grades
• Talking about or showing interest in death or dying/posting thoughts and feelings on social media sites
• Friends expressing an increased level of concern about the child since the victim may confide in friends before parents
• Saying or expressing that they cannot handle things anymore
• Giving away favorite possessions
• Making comments that things would be better off without them.

If a parents notices any of these signs, the first step would be to talk to the teen. “Find out what is going on in their life and what you can do to help,” says Dr. Peeples. Is there bullying at school, are they overwhelmed with grades are they showing depressive or suicidal symptoms?

The next step is to seek treatment, particularly if these thoughts have developed to the point of having a plan to kill themelves adds Dr. Peeples. Call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1- or go to mygcal.com. “This is staffed by professional social workers and counselors,” he says. “They can provide services in the case of immediate crisis, or they can also help you access outpatient services, which can be handy as many people don’t know where to begin.”