While some may think cyberbulling, or online bullying, is new, some researchers contend it has been a problem since the mid-1990s, when home and personal computers became more affordable and more prevalent.

John Fanska, a licensed professional counselor with Signature Psychiatric Hospital, said cyberbullying can be stealthy as it can be done while hiding behind a digital device. The ramifications of cyberbullying can be as devastating as other forms, leading to self-doubt, low self-esteem and thoughts of suicide.

“It’s not like bullying on the playground, but it’s over the phone, internet and social media,” he said. “There’s a way to hide behind whatever size screen. One of the biggest concerns is the amount of time spent on social media and the like.”

A current problem

The content an individual shares online — both personal uploads as well as reactions people post — create a permanent public record. This public record can be thought of as an online reputation, which may be accessed by schools, employers, colleges, clubs, family, friends, loved ones and others.

With the prevalence of social media and digital forums, comments, photos, posts and content shared by individuals can often be viewed by strangers as well as acquaintances.

According to the 2017 School Crime Supplement from the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice, of students between 12 to 18, 15% were bullied online or by text. Cyberbullying can harm the online reputations of everyone involved, not just the person being bullied, states research from StopBullying.gov.

“Part of the need to be hooked to electronics is the fear of missing out,” Fanska said, adding the constant draw to social media correlates to increased possibilities of negative interactions via those communication mediums. “It’s about getting those notifications. Then, if there are mean texts, tweets or posts, the teens then find themselves open (to bullying). I know social media is a place for a lot of bullying.”

Laws and related issues

While some types of bullying have legal ramifications, depending on the state, cyberbullying is still problematic to identify and punish because one’s possible intent or the seriousness of their comments is oftentimes harder to determine, according to some researchers.

Despite this, Fanska said parents should not dismiss the impact of any form of bullying.

“Some teens who are self-harming or are suicidal may need a hospital stay,” he said. “There is also outpatient help where we work on skills and learning to limit social media. There is also group therapy.”

Because of the impact on young people, schools have made efforts to create zero-tolerance policies regarding any form of bullying. One school is William Jewell College in Liberty.

Cara Dahlor, William Jewell spokeswoman, said reporting of incidents on campus can be handled through college anti-harassment coordinators or directly with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Solutions and help

To take away a bully’s power, Fanska said, victims should know perpetrators are often hoping for a response.

“They act with anger and anger is their ammunition,” he said. “If there is no response, the bully often moves to another target.”

Fanska said parents can help by limiting phone use.

“As parents, don’t go through the phone or invade privacy. My hope is that a parent is someone to trust,” he said. “Parents can encourage a phone-free day, a mental health day away from electronics and social media. Take the phone away at bedtime so teens can rest, which is healthy.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at kellie.houx@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6630.

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