Our focus this week is on bullying and the damaging effect it can have on mental health. Bullying unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Most people can probably identify a time when they experienced bullying and how it made them feel. Bullying happens everywhere: schools, workplace, friend groups, online, and it doesn’t just happen to children.
With our technologically driven world, opportunities for bullying has grown significantly. Cyberbullying refers to being bullied online or through digital devices and can happen through text messages, social media apps, gaming chats and platforms, and pretty much anywhere people view and share content. Cyberbullying can include spreading rumors or lies about someone or sharing private details that could be embarrassing or shameful.
The effects of all types of bullying have serious and lasting negative impacts on our mental health and overall wellbeing. Bullying causes feelings of rejection, exclusion, isolation, low self-esteem, and some individuals can develop depression and anxiety. Research has shown that being a victim of bullying can lead to longer term effects such as, interpersonal violence, substance use, sexual violence, poor social functioning, and poor performance. Even witnessing bullying can negatively impact one’s wellbeing.
Being bullied at a young age can affect someone well past childhood and cause lifelong psychological damage. It can lead to problems with trust in others, self-esteem, and anger. Not having positive relationships with others at a young age causes difficulty in developing relationships at an older age. When we’re repeatedly criticized and attacked about who we are or what we are doing, we have a poor self-image and expect that others see us in the same light.
Bullying often leaves us with lingering feelings, sometimes anger towards others or ourselves. When one goes through bullying over an extended time, they may blame themselves for being bullied. Thoughts such as “If I wasn’t so ugly, people would leave me alone,” or “If I tried harder, people wouldn’t make fun of me,” are common. These types of thoughts can change how we perceive ourselves and leave long term impacts.
How To Help
If you are a parent to a digital teen be mindful of what your child is doing online and how these interactions with others may be affecting them. Create rules on internet use that limits screen time. This can be challenging, but these rules can help create a balance around positive, healthy social time and engaging in other activities that make them less likely to engage in cyberbullying.
Parents can help children avoid or prevent cyberbullying by talking with them about being careful not to post photos or private information online, especially content that they wouldn’t share with their parents.
Kids can prevent cyberbullying by adopting these strategies:
- Report cyberbullying to your parents or another responsible adult.
- Only accept an online friend or network requests from someone you know.
- Consider not taking part in “sexting” by sending texts or photos with sexual content.
If the effects of cyberbullying impact you, consider the following coping methods:
- Don’t directly respond to or retaliate against cyberbullying because that might be the reaction the bully seeks.
- Report cyberbullying to parents, teachers, or authorities if warranted.
- Block cyberbullies or anyone who acts questionably from your online accounts.
- Unplug from social media. Taking a break can improve your mental perspective and relieve anxiety.
When adults respond quickly and consistently to harassing behavior, they send the message to bullies that it’s not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.
Parents, school staff, and other adults in the community can help kids by:
- Talking about bullying
- Building a safe school environment by establishing and enforcing rules and policies that clearly describe how students are expected to treat each other.
- Creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.
- Sometimes bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment, which is covered under federal civil rights laws. Learn your civil rights!
If you are concerned that you or your child are experiencing lingering feelings from the results of bullying, it may be helpful to connect with a mental health professional to identify concerns and negative thinking patterns that may still be present.
For Immediate Help:
- The STOMP Out Bullying HelpChat Line is a free confidential online chat that helps youth ages 13-24 with issues around bullying and cyberbullying.
- If there has been a crime or someone is at immediate risk of har, call 911.
- If someone is feeling hopeless, helpless, or thinking of suicide, call or text 988.