By guest blogger Amy Williams, providing a mother’s perspective on parenting concerns.
The advent of technological advancements, especially social media, has made cyberbullying a very rampant problem. Today, social media including Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, connect millions of people around the world. For teenagers who rely on social media for modern interactions with peers and even strangers, some of these interactions may be unpleasant in nature. Cyber-bullying, or the use of electronic communications for the purpose of harassing others, can sadly cause teenagers to feel down and even develop depression. Here are some of the things concerned parents should know about the links between cyber-bullying, social media and depression.
Mental Health Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is a rampant issue affecting millions of teens around the world due to ease of access to the internet and readily available social media accounts. Adolescence is a time when young people try to establish their identities and important relationships with others. They may yearn for a sense of longing in groups of their peers and engage with them online. Unfortunately, his may leave them vulnerable to the ill intentions of a cyber bully.
Similar to traditional bullying, cyber-bullying is comprised of various offensive activities all conducted online. Such behaviors could include impersonating someone in a hurtful manner, spreading rumors, stalking people online, sending threatening messages or sharing personal information or photos about a person without their consent. Other abusive behaviors that characterize cyber-bullying are making mean or rude comments about someone, or sharing embarrassing or private photos or videos of them.
Such actions can result in mental and emotional upheaval for a teenager who internalize such behaviors without speaking up or seeking help from a responsible adult. Cyber-bullying can quickly erode their self-esteem, happiness, contentment and confidence. Research shows that about 90 % of teenagers who are subjected to cyberbullying experience undesirable emotions including anger, embarrassment, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety and vulnerability, among others. In extreme cases, the accumulation of these emotions can lead to severe feelings of depression.
What’s more is that the remote nature of the internet and the inability of cyberbullying victims to see their harassers in person and stand up for themselves can make them feel even more dehumanized, helpless and isolated. As a result, feelings of depression or anxiety can quickly creep in.
Recognizing Teenage Depression
As a parent, it may not be easy to establish if your teen kid is a victim of cyberbullying. This is because your teen may likely decide to keep their experiences online to themselves rather than sharing them with you or others. However, recognizing depression may be the indicator that helps you determine the root cause of their feelings. Some of the signs of depression to be mindful of are difficulty sleeping or nightmares, sudden drops in academic performance, changes in eating habits, reduced self-esteem, withdrawal from social circles such as sudden loss of friends or destructive behaviors including self-harm or suicidal ideation.
Teaching Teens To Recognize & Seek Help When Faced With Cyber-Bullying
While a teen may be hesitant to tell you about his or her cyberbullying experiences, perhaps because of the fear that you may deny him or her access to the internet, it is important for parents to have honest conversations with their teenagers regarding what they are going through. Encourage teens to speak up if they are being bullied online. Naturally, teens want to be independent and will oppose the idea of seeking assistance from adults even when they experience difficulties in life. Unfortunately, a teenager’s coping skills are still developing so it is paramount for them to speak up and seek help from a caring adult before their feelings decline to the point of the onset of depression.
Cyber-bullying is serious and in extreme cases can amount to criminal behavior, even leading to legal repercussions. As a parent, it is paramount to acknowledge cyber-bullying as a serious concern that should be given the amount of attention it deserves. Be open with your kids and let them know that you are there for them in case they encounter harassing behaviors via their social media accounts. Also, guide them on how they can use the internet safely to avoid such encounters. This can include declining friend requests from strangers, blocking people, reporting their accounts or even staying off of social media altogether. Also, do not forget to keep an eye on your kid’s online activities yourself so that you can intervene where possible to lessen the likelihood of cyberbullying.
Bullying in general is a huge societal problem that unfortunately impacts teens in disproportionate numbers. This is because adolescence is a time of great discovery, where teenagers are finding their identities and carving out their own unique marks in the world. Still peer pressure can lead to misbehaviors that negatively impact others, especially when it comes to cyber-bullying. If you are concerned that your child may have depression linked to the use of social media take the appropriate steps to get them help as soon as possible, including intervention from a medical professional. Then take immediate action to address the bullying behavior, stopping it for good.