It seems that every time we turn around, we read of another teen suicide related to cyberbullying. In many of these cases, the parents and teachers were unaware of any cruel activity taking place until it was too late. The United States Children’s Fund polled 30 countries and found that roughly 1 in 3 people between the ages of 13 and 24 claim to have experienced cyberbullying. It isn’t just instant messaging where the bullying occurs. Social media, chat rooms, online games, web pages….you name it. If it’s a means of electronic communication, then it’s a means for cyberbullying. Of course, not every case of cyberbullying culminates in someone taking their own life. But it does happen far too often. At the very least, victims experience low self esteem, anxiety, and depression. Some experience hostility or aggression.
So the question remains, why do the targets of cyberbullying rarely report it? Why do they not reach out to a trusted adult and tell them what is going on? The Education Ministry provided a grant for a team of researchers to identify and interview children who they knew had been targets of cyberbullying. Through this study, they were able to determine two key factors in why so few victims seek help from adults. The first is the fear of negative outcomes. The child fears loss of privileges on mobile devices or time spent on the internet. The second is that they feel the advice they get from adults doesn’t help. Simply put, parents and teachers are not well equipped with best practices of dealing with cyberbullying. Because of their findings, the researchers recommend that programs be developed to teach adults how to recognize victims of cyberbullying and ways to help them. They also recommend programs for the victims to teach them how to protect themselves and give them ways to cope in order to prevent such negative outcomes. It would be naive for us to think we can totally eradicate all instances of cyberbullying. But by educating ourselves, we can all work together to create an environment where victims feel safe and supported and eager to seek help.