A recent study, linking cyberbullying to symptoms of PTSD, found that more than a third of the cyberbullies were not involved in traditional bullying, whereas a huge majority of the cyberbully victims were involved in traditional bullying. This suggests that the anonymity provided to perpetrators online may constitute a new platform for bullying to occur. Based on the wide reach that cyberbullying and cancel culture can have, teens are more likely to report elevated levels of hypervigilance and avoiding social media platforms associated with incidents of cyberbullying, which are classic signs of PTSD.
What is Cyberbullying?
With the rise of technology, cyberbullying can happen anywhere, at any time. Teens are not protected by class changes, eating lunch in the bathroom, or going home early. As most teens have cell phones, cruel messages or unflattering photos can be sent or passed around during the school day and whenever teens walk out the front door. It may not involve physical violence like other forms of bullying, but the effect can be more widespread as online activity is permanent and often public. The prevalence of cyberbullying among teens is thought to be between 10% and 40% and to pose specific risks because it can be done day and night, in various contexts, is rapid, anonymous, and reaches a wide audience.
Examples of cyberbullying may include:
- Sending mean emails, texts, or direct messages
- Harassing someone from an anonymous number or account
- Posting hurtful things about someone on social media
- Spreading rumors or gossip about someone online
- Making fun of someone in an online chat that includes multiple people
- Creating a fake online profile to contact others
- Sharing embarrassing photos or videos of other people without their permission
What is the Impact of Cyberbullying on a Teen’s Identity and Social Relationships?
While the intent behind cyberbullying is similar to the intent behind traditional bullying, researchers have found that there may be protective factors against the effects of cyberbullying due to its anonymity, even though it is a double-edged sword. Another recent study, published in the Journal of Adolescence, found that intrapersonal emotional competence showed buffering effects against cyberbullying because the ability to handle one’s own emotions is known to have a positive impact on our mental health, but interpersonal emotional competence showed the opposite effect. Because the ability to understand emotional states in others may encourage individuals to dwell on the bully’s intentions.
The biggest impact of cyberbullying is the toll it takes on one’s social life and technology use, while bullying is more likely to target one’s self-esteem. The mediating factor may be the public display of relational aggression that leaves cyberbullying victims more vulnerable and feeling exposed.
Teens who have been cyberbullied are more likely to:
- Struggle with trusting others
- Become withdrawn
- Either spend excessive time online or avoid social media altogether
- Become jumpy whenever they receive a notification
- Avoid conversations about their friendships or online activity
- Refuse to go to school
Healing from the Trauma of Cyberbullying
While most cyberbullying comes in the form of verbal abuse, gaslighting, and harassment, it can be just as emotionally painful as physical acts or threats of violence. As it is less understood by parents and professionals who may not have grown up with social media technology, it can be difficult to offer support to your daughter who is affected by cyberbullying if you don’t understand the phenomena.
Some suggestions may include:
- Ask questions, but respect space. It can feel embarrassing to share other people’s negative online comments with others out of fear of judgment or “being exposed.” When asking about your child’s experience, the details and names may not matter. In fact, they may bring up more anxiety and shame. However, it may be helpful to ask general questions about what the process of “being canceled” looks like, how certain sites respond to reported comments or anonymous users, or how celebrities have used their social media platforms to address online “haters”. By focusing on the general experience of cyberbullying, your daughter may offer insight into youth Internet culture that can help guide ways to support her in her personal experience with it.
- Don’t blame her for her online activity. Cyberbullying isn’t always direct backlash for inappropriate or hurtful comments made online or controversial opinions. Many parents’ gut instinct is to ask whether their child values their digital privacy or if they give out too much personal information online. While these conversations are important, it is becoming more socially acceptable for teens to put that level of information out there. Besides, the immediate crisis should be how she feels targeted or rejected, not how or if she played a role.
- Encourage her to unplug from technology for a while. This might seem like one of the most obvious solutions, but it can be difficult to follow through with when a significant proportion of a teen’s social life occurs through online activity. While it may feel punitive to take away their phone for something out of their control, encouraging them to self-monitor their screen time or temporarily deactivate certain accounts can help them take space from triggering messages before they decide if and how they might want to respond.
- Offer positive affirmations on and offline. After experiencing cyberbullying, many teenage girls take mean comments to heart and overgeneralize that all of her friends (or followers) feel the same way about her. It is critical to her self-esteem to remind her of her positive attributes and help her reflect on the things she appreciates about herself. If you are also on social media, hyping her up in her comments or flooding her tagged photos on Instagram may be seen as “embarrassing,” but heart reacting her pictures and tagging her in uplifting quotes and articles may fill her feed with positive information.
Solstice RTC Can Help
Solstice Residential Treatment Center is a program for young girls ages 14-18 who struggle with issues such as anxiety, depression, trauma, and/or relationship struggles. This program provides three types of therapy: individual, group, and family therapy. Solstice Residential Treatment Center is dedicated to teaching young women how to incorporate healthy habits into their lives. Students will leave with the skills they need to transition into the world feeling confident, happy, and able to manage their emotions.
Contact us at 866-278-3345. We can help your family today!