Cyberbullying & its Impact on Mental Health

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In the past few decades, social media has risen to a place on prominence in societies worldwide. Now ubiquitous, it’s hard to find many people who don’t hold at least one social account.

Social media’s impact on mental and physical health has been well examined in recent years, from exposes covering Instagram and Meta’s knowledge of how these platforms affect girls’ body image to the rise of swatting on social gaming platforms.

Cyberbullying has far-reaching implications for victims. Here, we take a close look at how cyberbullying and harassment are related. There are ways to lower the risk of experiencing cyberbullying on social media but this may not be well-known amongst communities because social media platforms introduce new tools at different times.

What is cyberbullying, and is it harassment?

Cyberbullying is harassment; it’s an act of aggression, usually repeated, that take place through the use of technology, such as social media or instant messages. It can occur between people who know each other in real life – classmates, for instance – and those who don’t know each other at all.

Cyberbullying is typically defined by four key elements: intentionality, repetition, imbalance of power, and harm. In other words, cyberbullying is more than a single mean or derogatory message sent to someone online.

Instead, it’s a sustained pattern of online harassment that could involve embarrassment, doxing, generating rumors about others, and any actions that cause distress or harm to the victim.

While adults may be able to shrug off any hatred or disdain they see online, children are more vulnerable to being hurt by online bullying because they’re still developing their ability to deal with stressful situations without falling into depression or anxiety.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a non-profit working in this space, in 2021, data shows that online bullying peaked for users aged 14 and 15 years old before decreasing in later adolescence. It also shows a 40% increase in cyberbullying incidents since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

How cyberbullying affects victims

Cyberbullying undermines a person’s self-esteem, may make them fear for their life, affect the central nervous system via ongoing stress, and may even lead to lasting physical changes in the brain. 

When the cyberbully is known to the victim, in an educational setting, for example, the victim may begin encountering abuse from other peer group members, leading to ostracization and a feeling of “not belonging” – both of which have a critical impact on adolescents.

It is well known that for teens, peer groups are an essential part of their formative years, and in-group membership holds a range of positives from a social development perspective. For that reason, social media can benefitteens when they are not exposed to damaging social situations, such as cyberbullying.

Preventing cyberbullying on social media

The best prevention is honest discussions with children and teens with social media accounts. Here is what you, as a parent, should cover when discussing online bullying:

  • Be aware of what you post online. If it’s something that could be taken out of context or used against you later on, don’t post it. Remember, the internet is forever.
  • Be careful about what apps you download and how much information you give them access to. If something seems sketchy or questionable, don’t download it!
  • Only accept friend requests from people who actually know you in real life and whose accounts seem legitimate. Don’t accept random friend requests just because they seem like they might be fun!
  • Keep an eye out for users who seem to be posting threatening messages or images—report them immediately so they can be dealt with appropriately.
  • Tell a trusted adult if you see or hear about cyberbullying, know that it’s not a joke and that people can be seriously hurt.

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