A research study conducted across the United States by Sam Houston State University examined the relationship between cyberbullying and fear of victimization. A survey of 3500 students from ages 12 to 18 looked at whether fear from cyberbullying was in addition to or separate from fear of traditional victimization. It was revealed that even if someone has not been victimized in a traditional way (such as being socially marginalized or being beaten up), and even if the school is not disorderly, teens can still be afraid at school after being cyberbully victims. While 29 percent of students in the survey reported being the victims of traditional bullying, 7 percent said they had experienced cyberbullying.
Our take is that cyberbullying is now another “tool” for bullies to use, along with fists and being taunted. Cyberbullying occurs when a child or teenager is threatened, tormented, humiliated, embarrassed or harassed by another child or teenager using digital technology, such as cellphones, email, Facebook or other online interfaces. Bullies are usually psychologically stronger and enjoy high social standing among their classmates. In contrast, victims are usually emotionally distressed and socially marginalized among their classmates. Fear of being bullied leads to numerous negative consequences. Those who are afraid may experience emotional distress, depression and anxiety. Their academic performance may go down along with their self-esteem. They may participate in self-harm activities and have suicidal thoughts. Parents often focus on the rude words that are used, but rude words don’t mean that bullying is taking place. The child knows when it is happening, when he or she feels hurt or afraid. In fact, the victim often becomes a bully and the bully becomes the victim, and then the roles switch again.
So parents, be aware of what is going on in your children’s digital world. What messages are they receiving? What messages are they sending out? Watch for signs of emotional distress after they are on the internet and talk with your children about how they feel. It just may be the opening that you both need to tackle the fear head on.
Carolyn Nesbitt, Ph.D.