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What Is Curbing the Impact of Cyberbullying on Teens?

New research suggests teens who face online bullying likely recover in a week.

Source: Pixabay

It never gets easier to read, but is there good news?

13-year-old Rosalie Avila

12-year-old Kenda Hoff

10-year-old Ashawnty Davis

With the recent headlines that are constantly streaming of young people taking their lives due to bullycide, a new study from the University of Central Florida, Pennsylvania State, and Ohio State found that typical teens seem to be resilient and cope with most online risks, moving beyond the temporary negative impacts quickly.

Pamela Wisniewski, a computer science assistant professor at UCF in Orlando who led this research said, “We absolutely acknowledge there are cases where teens experience severe online risks, such as cyberbullying, that lead to long-term negative outcomes, like committing suicide. These are terrible, but they are also extreme cases. The good news is that in our study, we found that these extreme scenarios aren’t the average teen experience.”

Digital resilience

The study was uncertain where or how the teens are learning their digital resilience and coping skills, but they are. Bridgett McHugh who worked on the study as a Ph.D. student at UCF said coping may be happening through other online interactions with friends or through support from social media communities.

Parents can be part of helping their kids be prepared for online hate and digital discourse by continuing their offline conversations about cyber-life.

  1. Prepare them for the ugly side of the Internet or possibly being upset by what people say. Remind them it could be inappropriate content that slips through filters. Being forewarned is being forearmed.
  2. Show them how to block individuals, flag and report abusive content, and when to report incidents. Emphasize the importance of telling someone "in real life."
  3. Show your teen how easily digital pictures can be manipulated. The realization that not everything is what it seems is a useful first step – understanding that life is not as perfect as it may seem virtually. Teens may be familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating ‘fake’ images.
  4. Help them to think through the possible consequences of what they post online. Remind them that there is no rewind, once it's posted it's nearly impossible to take back. Fifteen minutes of humor is not worth a lifetime of humiliation.
  5. Encourage your teen to socialize in person with their friends. Communicating solely behind a screen can be isolating. Socializing in person builds more face-to-face contact in helping your child have empathy and compassion towards people.

As Wisniewski concluded in this study, she recommended that parents help their children learn to manage risk. You have to constantly work on an open dialogue with your kids, especially when it concerns their online activity.

Trust, but confirm

In Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion in an Age of Cruelty and Trolling, we discuss how you can open your lines of communication.

While we want to trust our children, parents also need to make sure that they are checking in and checking up. Tools such as monitoring software and anti-bullying apps do have their place, but there is no substitute for ongoing dialogue with children about their online lives. I often remind parents that a child’s cyber-life is constantly evolving. Parents have to learn to ask their children on a regular basis about their digital lives. Are there any new apps they’ve downloaded? Websites they’ve visited? Cyberfriends?

It must be as common a question as “How was your day at school?” One study revealed that in only one out of four times a teen encountered a risky online situation did they tell their parents about it. It’s important to keep your lines of communication open so if your child is being harassed online, he or she feels comfortable to come to you. Being interested in their online activity is as important as being interested in their education – it’s their lives today.

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