SALT LAKE CITY — October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Mental health experts say online abuse can have longer-lasting effects than in-person bullying.
Dr. David Greenfield, the founder of The Center for Internet and Technology Addiction and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, said cyber-bullying leaves a permanent footprint.
“That’s not to say that bullying in real-time is okay or any less upsetting to a person,” said Greenfield “but this has a life span that is endless.”
The reasons for cyber-bullying are the same for any other type of abuse–insecurity. But it’s also complex stated Greenfield.
“Bullies typically express their own insecurity and vulnerability by picking on somebody else. So it’s always an expression of issues that the bully has,” Greenfield explained.
“Add to that,” Greenfield continued, “posting on a social media page or Instagram feed requires little or no effort. And there’s a sense that it’s not real.”
Children are particularly vulnerable to cyber-bullying
Being a digital citizen is the first step in protecting your child — both from being bullied and becoming the bully. So parents have to get educated.
Greenfield points out that pre-pandemic, parents knew where their kids were going, who they were with and what they were doing, most of the time.
“But do they know which websites their kids are visiting and how much time they’re spending there?” he asked. “Parents need to take the same interest and focus on what their kids are doing on-line.”
Greenfield stated the first step is to educate your kids about the risks and security issues of being online. It will be similar to telling kids not to go with someone they don’t know just because they are offered candy or asked to help search for a lost puppy.
And parents need to have open discussions about what kids are doing said Greenfield.
“Kids can be dangerous when they cyber-bully. Parents need to assume that their child can be either a victim or the offender — and sometimes they can be both.”
Additionally, the psychological damage of being bullied can lead children to do destructive things and even take their own lives.
“The only way to stop the abuser is to educate them what abuse looks like and ask why they feel the need to bully others.” Greenfield continued “and the parents need to learn how to filter what apps their kids are exposed to prevent them from being bullied.”
Ways to protect children from online bullies
There are tools parents can use to monitor what their children are exposed to online without searching through a kid’s smartphone or computer.
Greenfield recommends using the app Circle. It’s a Parental Control app that lets parents manage screen-time and monitor all websites and apps visited on your home network.
But even if you don’t use Circle, he says parents need to use some type of online monitoring system.
“TikTok and Snapchat are two of the most common apps teens and pre-teens are using to bully each other right now,” said Greenfield.
He also said instant communication apps are constantly being updated and changed which is why it is so important to monitor what sites your kid’s visit because bullying takes place everywhere.
“It can take place on email. It can take place, believe it or not, on the back end of apps being used for school. It can be on the comment section of video apps and sporting apps. We’ve seen it everywhere.”
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