Social media, smartphones and the internet have many benefits and are an essential way for teens to socialize. Unfortunately, they also have a dark side. Today, bullies who feel empowered by the anonymity of being online can use technology to repeatedly and intentionally intimidate, stalk, threaten or embarrass their victims.
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 profoundly changed how many people worked, learned and stayed in touch with loved ones. With schools closed for in-person learning, students spent even more time online than ever before. Correspondingly, cyberbullying also increased among American teenagers. Here’s what parents need to know about this crisis.
How Has the Pandemic Escalated Teen Cyberbullying?
Researchers from two universities set out to determine how the pandemic has changed the cyberbullying landscape for young Americans. They tracked incidents of general cyberbullying, in addition to cyberbullying based on race or color.
The researchers designed a groundbreaking nationwide survey of middle and high school students and discovered that the total proportion of adolescents who reported experiencing cyberbullying incidents rose to 23% in 2021, up from 17% in 2019.
Notably, Asian American youth experienced significantly more cyberbullying than their counterparts since the beginning of the pandemic, fueled by politicization of the virus and a corresponding increase in AAPI discrimination. Adolescents with Asian heritage were the only racial group surveyed where the majority reported such a sharp increase in cyberbullying due to COVID-19.
Types of Cyberbullying
While all bullying hurts, online bullying can be especially damaging to a teen’s reputation, self-esteem and future. Unlike physical or emotional bullying, cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint that can follow victims into adulthood. For example, doxing is a form of online harassment used to get revenge and threaten someone’s privacy by publishing their personal information, such as their address, phone number, Social Security number and login credentials.
Other tactics a cyberbully might use include:
- Posting insulting or embarrassing comments, photos, videos or rumors about their victim
- Threatening to harm someone or telling them to kill themselves
- Pretending to be someone else online to solicit or publish real or fabricated details about their life
Signs Your Child May Be Dealing With a Cyberbully
While some signs of physical and emotional bullying are obvious, cyberbullying is typically much more difficult for adults to detect. As a parent, you have the power to ensure your child’s online interactions remain safe, healthy and positive.
If your teen seems unusually anxious, depressed or withdrawn after using technology, or if they are being secretive about how and when they interact with people online, it’s time to intervene.
- Talk to your child about the websites and social media platforms they regularly use.
- Set up parental controls on any devices your child has access to. Block websites that aren’t age-appropriate, and ensure they can’t download any new apps without your permission.
- Discuss internet safety best practices, such as not giving out any personal information.
Helping Your Teen Achieve Their Full Potential
If your child has been victimized by cyberbullying, it can adversely affect their overall well-being, making an already difficult time in life even more challenging.
The Forum at San Diego Brainworks offers comprehensive programming specifically designed for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. Our multidisciplinary team of clinical experts specializes in assessing and treating behavioral and mental health disorders. To learn more about how we can help your family, reach out to us today.