Technology has become such an integral part of our lives, it’s almost hard to remember what life was like before this “digital age”. Right now, my kids have access to a laptop, tablet, smartphone and even a smartwatch. This means that they have constant access to everything online, primarily social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and others.
A new study by the University of Georgia, suggests that kids who spend more time online, have higher social media addiction scores and are more at risk of participating in cyberbullying. “There are some people who engage in cyberbullying online because of the anonymity and the fact that there’s no retaliation,” said Amanda Giordano, principal investigator of the study and associate professor in the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education. “You have these adolescents who are still in the midst of cognitive development, but we’re giving them technology that has a worldwide audience and then expecting them to make good choices.”
Cyberbullying takes on many forms, ranging from harassment, spreading private information, cyberstalking, and social exclusion. Because the social dynamics are so different when engaging with peers online than in person, the offender tends to be more aggressive than they’d be in face to face interactions. In addition, because they never see the impact of their actions, there is less empathy and remorse.
Teens who are addicted to social media report spending on average over seven hours a day online with some spending up to 12 hours online in just one day. Social media platforms are designed to give users a “dopamine hit” which just perpetuates the cycle of addiction. And if cyberbullying (or other negative online behavior) results in likes, comments, shares or retweets, teens are more likely to engage in these activities to feed that addiction.
Our teens are caught between an online and offline world. We need to help them assess and redefine their relationship with technology, specifically with social media. Giordano recommends that “schools start educating students earlier about cyberbullying and social media addiction as a preventive method instead of waiting to repair the damage.” And I couldn’t agree more.