For many children, virtual interaction is as natural as getting together with friends after school. Texting on phones, social media sites, chat forums and email open up channels for communication that can be constructive in building friendships. However, digital technology is also used for cyberbullying. Unlike bullying in the physical world, cyberbullying can go on 24/7 and anonymously. The victim may be harassed with mean, humiliating or threatening texts or messages. Doctored pictures, fake profiles and other things may be posted on social media sites and blogs to humiliate the child. Online, the reach is far, and word travels fast. Cyberbullying can be relentless and have severe and long-term effects on a child, including his performance at school, which is not the least of the harm done.
Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to avoid going to school, according to StopBullying.gov. In many cases this is because the person or persons bullying them are classmates. However, even if they are not individuals at your child's school or someone your child knows personally, he may feel embarrassed about his classmates and others seeing things that the cyberbully put online about him. He may not know who the cyberbully is and wonder if it is a classmate. Skipping school or cutting classes worsens grades, leading the child to feel even less in control.
Kids who are bullied are likely to experience anxiety, depression, loneliness and unhappiness, according to the American Osteopathic Association. Even physical bullying goes on in schools without adults stopping it, but cyberbullying often flies under the radar. It can be difficult to track. And in many cases the victims are too embarrassed to tell anyone, or they may feel that they somehow deserved it or caused it to happen. As with any abuse, the victim feels shame, as unwarranted as it is. A cyberbullied child may feel anxious and less confident. This can lead to low self-esteem and behavior changes such as being quieter in class or not feeling like doing homework or studying. If the bullying problem is left unattended, it can lead to a significant problem in your child's educational, social and emotional development.
A 2005 study published in the the journal "JAMA Pediatrics" looked at the effects of bullying during elementary school on academic achievement and other factors. The study found that students who achieved 10 percent higher grades were 20 percent less likely to have been bullied. Children who are cyberbullied often feel just as victimized or more so than children who are bullied in the physical world. This may lead to reckless behavior and negligence of schoolwork.
Kids may feel that nothing can be done about cyberbullying because it appears remote. KidsHealth.org advises parents to be aware of cyberbullying and talk to their children child about it. Cyberbullying is a serious crime. It has led to depression and even suicide. Signs of cyberbullying include emotional distress during or after using the Internet or mobile phone, and may also include being secretive or protective of their digital activities -- because the victim is embarrassed -- changes in mood, behavior, sleep or appetite and avoidance of friends or school. Take action by saving messages and images posted by the cyberbully and reporting these to to school authorities or the police. Block the cyberbully to prevent further harassment while the case is being investigated, and seek professional counselling for your child.