The average teenager spends seven hours online every day for entertainment. While spending more time online is a reality of modern life, it changes the way adolescents interact with one another, often in negative ways.
For example, too much time on social media can increase your child’s risk of being bullied online and becoming a cyberbully, according to a study from the University of Georgia. Teens were most likely to be a perpetrator of online bullying if they:
- Spent a lot of time on social media, even when faced with negative consequences like lack of sleep, poor grades, or doing things online they later regret
- Spent many hours online each day, beyond social media
- Identify as male
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What Does Cyberbullying Look Like?
Cyberbullying is the use of electronic communication to harass, intimidate, manipulate, or threaten someone. Examples include:
- Name calling
- Spreading rumors
- Spreading private information without consent
- Personal attacks
- Harassment or humiliation
- Misrepresenting oneself
- Social exclusion
- Cyberstalking (using electronics to stalk or harass someone)
A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of teens have personally experienced abusive online behavior. Name calling was the most common cyberbullying behavior, followed by spreading false rumors, constant check-ins by someone other than a parent, and physical threats. About one-quarter of teens say they’ve received explicit images they didn’t request.
Although teenage boys and girls are equally likely to experience cyberbullying, certain types of behaviors, such as rumor spreading and receiving unrequested explicit images, are more common for girls. Girls are also more likely to experience several different forms of cyberbullying. And generally speaking, teens who spend much of their free time online are more likely to face online harassment than less frequent users.
Why Does Cyberbullying Happen?
Teens bully one another for a variety of reasons. Some get bullied at home or don’t get the healthy attention they need from parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, or siblings. Others have low self-esteem and bully to gain a sense of power or control. Some believe it will help them be accepted by a certain crowd or keep others from bullying them.
Cyberbullying is becoming more common as teens spend more time in digital and online spaces. A few possible reasons include:
- Anonymity. Social norms are different online than in person. It’s easier to be cruel or aggressive on social media because there is no face-to-face confrontation. Users can remain anonymous and avoid retaliation.
- Avoidance of Natural Consequences. When a teen bullies someone in person, there are natural consequences to those actions. They can see the damage they cause and have an opportunity to learn from their behavior. Bullying has fewer natural consequences when it occurs online.
- Underdeveloped Executive Function. With the decision-making areas of their brains still forming, teenagers sometimes make poor choices. The internet creates an environment where it’s easy to post and difficult, if not impossible, to undo their words and actions.
How Parents Can Help
Studies show parents can influence their teen’s online behavior. Here are a few ways you can help prevent cyberbullying:
- Talk early and often about appropriate online behavior. Give specific examples so they can make good decisions. Explain the consequences of online bullying, what to do if it happens to them, or what to do if they feel like they’re losing control over their technology use.
- Set rules limiting time online and enforce them consistently. Get them more involved in offline activities.
- Encourage your child to speak up if they witness cyberbullying.
- If your child bullies others online or is the victim of cyberbullying, consider talking with a mental health counselor or a clinician at a teen treatment program. These professionals can help them cut down on social media use, find healthy ways to cope with feelings, build their self-confidence, and address underlying issues that may be at the root of their behavior.
Adolescence is a time when young people are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be – in real life, as well as online. Helping them navigate their online world will help ensure they reap the benefits of technology while minimizing dangers like cyberbullying.