In past articles I have talked about the enormous psychological impact of bullying on our children and teens. We have all seen or heard stories in the media and from people in our lives about emotional scarring, depression and sometimes suicide resulting from bullying.

Until now I have only discussed traditional forms of bullying through person-to-person contact at school or on the playground.

As you likely are aware, studies are also now reporting cyber-bullying as a growing concern for our children.

In today’s technology driven climate, very young children are often competent users of the internet, email, instant and text messaging, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and others. As with any positive advance in our culture, these technologies can be used negatively and with damaging results.

Recent studies in the US found up to 30 percent of children have been ridiculed or threatened online. Children reported feeling embarrassed, worried or threatened by an online posting or message.

Further, as many as one in five children claimed to have bullied another youth using digital media.

While the content of cyber-bullying is not much different than that of traditional bullying –rumours, insults and threats – it may be more common because of the lack of person-to-person contact and the possibility for bullies to remain anonymous or use fake personas. Kids who are too cautious to provoke someone in person, may feel free to do so in this online environment.

Although the majority of children who are bullied on-line are not physically harmed by their agressors, cyber-bullying can still cause serious emotional hurt and long-term problems for victims.

Parents and school districts need to take cyber-bullying just as seriously as person-to-person bullying.

Some school districts are already taking steps to minimize the problem by teaching about safe, appropriate media use. Unfortunately, since cyber-bullying doesn’t involve open face-to-face conflict and can happen at any hour of the day while kids are at home or at school, it is more difficult to enforce rules or discipline those who engage in bullying behaviour.

As parents, we need to teach our children that all forms of bullying are unacceptable and to foster open communication so they feel comfortable approaching us if they are victims of cyber-bullying.

It is also important to be aware of your child’s online activities. Keeping computers with web access in a common area of the house and remaining up-to-date with new technologies and forms of messaging can help you to notice if your child seems to be engaging in inappropriate online behaviour.

Not only can this help prevent your child from being a cyber-bully, but it can also protect your child from bullies and other online dangers.

Simply because children are capable of operating online media, it doesn’t mean they are equipped to navigate said media safely and appropriately. Judgment and common sense remain skills we develop as we mature.

Of course, cyber-bullying is a reality for adults as well as children. In addition to the already-mentioned technologies where bullying can occur, there are a growing number of online forums for leaving anonymous, often abusive comments about adults.

Sites where you can leave comments people you have encountered personally or professionally can become hateful places full of rumours and extremely negative information that may or may not be true. We should take the advice we give to our children and use these spaces appropriately.

More States of Mind articles

About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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