Today we have a guest post from Amy K. Williams. As part of our back-to-school series, we are featuring resources, ideas, and programs to help keep kids safe and to assist parents as you start the year off on a positive, proactive note.
Amy K. Williams is mother of two and a former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral issues. Parenting is her passion and she is especially involved in spreading the word about positive parenting techniques.
What were some of your fondest memories from childhood?
Many of us eagerly answer this question with the typical scenarios that involve playing in the park, swimming at the pool with friends, catching fireflies at dusk, and more. While these are great traditional childhood memories, many of our own children are not enjoying carefree days similar to our youth. Over 13 million of our sons and daughters are suffering unnecessarily, because of bullying across the nation.
Growing up we had bullies, but today’s tormentors have evolved and often take their cruelty online to social media or instant messaging. The bullying epidemic is no longer confined to the school playground, but it is now going digital. It might start out with a few cruel remarks or posts, but other people often hop on the bandwagon adding likes and comments.
The Consequences Of Cyberbullying
This pile-on mentality snowballs and quickly isolates the victim when they see other people agreeing with the bully. Over time this can affect a child’s esteem and health in a myriad of ways. There has been documented links between cyberbullying and depression, thoughts of suicide, attempted suicide, anxiety, and stress. To make matters worse, the consequences don’t cease when the bullying ends.
Researchers have found that the effects of bullying can reach far into adulthood. A few months or years of bullying can impact the victim’s mental health, job performance, ability to thrive, and contentment as adults. This study has led experts to stress that the interactions with a child’s peers are important and may have greater overall influence than the family’s home life.
Cyberbullying is unique, because our children have no place to hide or seek solace from a tormentor. With the advent of handheld devices and social media, our children are accessible anytime and anywhere. This hyper connectivity creates a unique atmosphere that can beat down our kids’ self worth.
An In-depth Look At Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is now so commonplace on social media that it was believed close to one-third of our children were falling victims while over 60 percent had witnessed some form of digital bullying. Those statistics are startling, but to make matters worse a new study has discovered that these rates have now tripled!
Those statistics are enough to send a parent’s worry into overdrive, but what is extremely worrisome is that 90 percent of our children won’t seek help or tell an adult. Whether they are the victim or if they witness it happening, our kids often try to handle the situation on their own. This can lead to escalating cases of bullying that quickly spiral out of control and end with devastating results.
Protecting Our Children In The Digital Age
Bullying, on or offline, is bound to become an issue sometime for every child, but children with special needs have higher chances of becoming victims. Bullies often see our children as vulnerable or weaker which makes them easy targets. Many experts and studies have stated that children with special needs, like allergies or physical conditions, are at higher risk for being a victim and tend to cover for their bullies which makes it more difficult for adults to know when an issue is developing.
Parental awareness is extremely important to keep our children safe. It is far too easy to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to kids and technology, but it is crucial to be informed and involved about what our children are doing, witnessing, and experiencing online. This becomes even more important when our children have special needs or have physical characteristics that make them stand out from the crowd.
As our children and teens seek measures to keep us out of the loop when it comes to their online lives and personas, it can be daunting to protect our youngest and most vulnerable family members. Well-meaning people often suggest to simply the delete harmful messages, but in many cases this isn’t feasible. Deleting cyberbullying takes a lot of proactive measures and parental involvement.
For more information on cyberbullying, how children hide online activity, and for ideas to protect our children in the digital age, please read the following infographic. (If it's too small to read on your screen, click the link for a downloadable PDF!)