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Challenge: Kids and Technology

How To Protect Your Children And Teens From The Stress of Cyberbullying

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One of the biggest challenges parents currently face is how to manage our children’s access to technology. When they are young, we worry about them spending too much time staring at screens and not getting outside to play.

As they get older, they start asking for their own cell phone, and then the world (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is available right in the palm of their hand. Sadly, the rise in popularity of the internet, smartphones, and text messaging has led to a major bullying problem online, called cyberbullying.

The Scary Statistics

Nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online, according to PACER, the organization who developed National Bullying Prevention Month that is held every October to unite communities nationwide to inspire, educate, and raise awareness about bullying prevention. Cyberbullying is now the single largest type of bullying, and 25 percent of kids who have been bullied say they have experienced it more than once.

Cyberbullying typically involves spreading rumors or writing hurtful comments to another person using technology. The spread of technology has made bullying so much easier because it has removed the traditional barriers of time and space between bullies and their victims. They can interact in real-time at any moment throughout the day, whether it be during or after school. The technology to hurt someone is constantly on—available 24/7.

Why are kids being bullied? According to TeenSafe data:

  • 72 percent of children are cyberbullied because of their looks.
  • 26 percent of victims are chosen due to their race or religion.
  • 22 percent of harassed children feel that their sexuality was the cause of the bullying.

Other reasons include weak athletic ability, intelligence level, strong artistic skills, strong morals, refusal to join the crowd, or having a small build (i.e., too short or too thin).

How CyberBullying Causes Stress And Anxiety

Like any traumatic event, cyberbullying can cause immediate and lingering stress and anxiety for the victims. They often are left feeling lonely, isolated, vulnerable, depressed, and anxious. The top four anxiety disorders that victims of bullying can experience include post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and social anxiety disorder.

Several recent studies show a clear link between bullying and anxiety.

  • A 2008 study at the University of Florida discovered a link between social bullying in adolescence and anxiety disorders and depression in young adulthood. Allison Dempsey, the lead author, said, “Even though people are outside of high school, the memories of these experiences continue to be associated with depression and social anxiety. It was interesting to see these relationships still continue to exist even though they are in early adulthood now and in a completely different setting.”
  • In 2011, Elizabeth Carll, PhD, of the American Psychological Association presented the findings about the negative aspects of the internet in a talk entitled, “Electronic Harassment and Cyberstalking: Intervention, Prevention and Public Policy.” She concluded that cyberbullying can cause intense stress that may even be worse than being harassed in person. Trauma associated with being stalked or tormented online can have long-lasting implications for mental health. She found that students who were bullied online felt socially anxious, lonely, frustrated, sad, and helpless.
  • A 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry by researchers at Duke University found that both bullies and people who are bullied have an increased risk of depression; panic disorder; and behavioral, educational, and emotional problems.
  • A 2014 study found that bullying causes long term psychological damage to confidence and the ability to feel safe, trust others, and have hope. Victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and suicidal feelings nearly four decades after a bullying incident. Being bullied as a child was also associated with a lack of social relationships, economic hardship, and poor perceived quality of life at age 50. The experience of being bullied severely damages a child’s ability to feel safe in the world and, in some individuals, can even progress into paranoid thinking.

Ways To Protect Your Kids

In an effort to help raise awareness about this serious issue, a campaign called “Cyberbullying Avengers” was created by TeenSafe, an online software program that allows parents to monitor their children’s online activity. It was founded by parents who saw the effects of cyberbullying on their own children. TeenSafe suggests the following tips to protect your family.

Use Parental Controls Like TeenSafe

The term “parental control” refers to steps taken by parents to monitor their children’s activities and control what they are and are not exposed to. Although the term usually applies to the digital world, it can be used to describe a parent blocking certain TV channels, prohibiting certain magazines or books, or even preventing kids from hanging out with bad peers.

Parental control helps parents protect their children from sexually explicit or violent content, drug or alcohol use, profane language and more. When talking about the digital world, parental controls are tools and software that are used to block inappropriate websites, impose screen time limits, and prevent strangers from coming into contact with your children online.

TeenSafe provides an online software program that gives parents the tools to monitor your child’s iPhone or Android smartphone as well as view activity on Instagram, WhatsApp, and Kik Messenger. When you sign into TeenSafe, your child’s smartphone data will be available for you to view. You will be able to read text messages, see your child’s browser history, and monitor your child’s social media use. TeenSafe offers complete security—only you can access your child’s data. Protect your kids: test out this service for free.

Educate Them

Our children need our guidance. According to a recent survey, 24 percent of kids and teens report that they do not know what they would do if they were harassed online and 39 percent do not enable their privacy settings on social media.

You don’t have to secretly monitor your child’s online behavior. In fact, you will have more success if you talk to your children about proper digital etiquette and cyberbullying so that they will be comfortable to open up to you if they witness a bully situation. Explain to them that there are boundaries and limitations when using their electronics. If you see a message that looks inappropriate, speak to them about it immediately. Let them know that you are not using parenting controls to invade their privacy. You love them, are on their side, and want to keep them safe. Check out the Parenting Guide To Tech Safety for more tips.

Encourage Them To Take A Stand Against Bullies

The actions of peers are more likely to stop a bully than anything else. Let’s give our children the power to stand up and speak out against bullying. By raising confident, emotionally intelligent, kind kids who have goals and a purpose in life, we are giving them the tools to recognize when a situation just doesn’t feel right.

Finally, to guide parents, TeenSafe created an extremely helpful infographic about cyberbullying facts.

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