By Akshaj Mehta, Sci-Tech Column Editor
Bullies have been around forever, but technology now gives them a whole new platform for their actions. The old “sticks and stones” saying is no longer true — both real-world and online name-calling can have serious emotional consequences for kids and teens.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is no longer limited to schoolyards or street corners. In present day, bullying can happen at home as well as at school-essentially 24 hours a day. As long as kids have access to a phone, computer, or other electronic device (including tablets), children are at risk. Severe, long-term, or frequent cyberbullying can leave both victims and bullies at greater risk for behavioral problems like anxiety or depression as well as low self-esteem. There are cases where kids have turned to suicide. Many kids and teens who are cyberbullied don’t want to confide in anyone. They do not want to tell a teacher or parent, often because they feel ashamed of the social stigma or fear that their computer privileges will be taken away at home.
Signs of cyberbullying vary, but can include:
- Being emotionally upset during or after using the internet or the phone
- Being very secretive or protective of their digital life
- Feeling disconnected from family members, friends, and activities
- Avoiding school or group gathering
- Sliding grades
- Frequent changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
- Being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
- Avoiding discussions about computer or cell phone activities
What We Can Do
- Treat Everyone with Respect
Nobody should be mean to others. Stop and Think before you say or do something that could hurt someone. If you feel like being mean to someone, you should find something else to do like play a game, watch TV, or talk to a friend. Talk to an adult you trust or your parent. They can help find ways to be nicer to others. Keep in mind that everyone is different, not better or worse. If you think you have bullied someone in the past, please make an effort to apologize. Everyone will feel better and you will feel less guilty.
- Protect yourself and others from cyberbullying
Bullying does not always happen in person. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that happens online or through text messages or emails. There are things you can do to protect yourself:
• Always think about what you post. You never know if someone will forward that post. Being kind to others online will help to keep you safe too. Do not share on social media anything that could hurt or embarrass anyone.
• Keep your password secret from other kids. Even kids that seem like friends could give away your password or use it in ways you don’t want. Let your parents have our passwords.
• Think about who sees what you post online. Complete strangers? Friends? Friends of friends? Privacy settings let you control who sees what.
• Keep telling your parents what you are doing online. Let your parents “friend” or “follow” you. Listen to what they have to say about what is and isn’t okay to do. They care about you and want you to be safe.
• Talk to parents about any messages online that is making you sad or scared. If it feels like cyberbullying, please let a parent know.
- Stand Up for Others
When you see bullying, there are safe things you can do to make it stop:
Talk to a parent, teacher, or another adult you trust. Adults need to know when bad things happen so they can help.
Be kind to the kid being bullied. Show them that you care by talking to them and trying to include them. Sit with them at lunch or on the bus, talk to them at school, or invite them to do something. Become their friend. Just hanging out with them will help them know they aren’t alone.
Not saying anything could make it worse for everyone. The kid who is bullying will think it is okay to keep treating others that way.
- Get Involved
You can be a leader in preventing bullying in the community. Find out more about where and when bullying happens at your school. Think about what could help and share your ideas. There is a good chance that adults are not aware of what happens. Volunteer to go with a friends to talk to a teacher, counselor, coach, or parent.
- Talk to your principal about getting involved at school.
Be on a school safety committee. Create posters for your school about bullying. Be a role model for younger kids. Write a blog, letter to the editor of your local newspaper, or tweet about bullying and how is it harmful.
I would conclude by saying, “One small step in the right direction to stop bullying can make a big impact to make our community a better place.