What To Do About Cyberbullying

Today’s teenagers are growing up with a completely different set of social parameters compared to any other generation before them thanks to advances in technology.

Research finds that about 75 percent of U.S. teens have their own smart devices such as a phone or tablet. The vast majority of teens are using their devices for social media, such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. While these platforms give teens the chance to connect with their peers in new and different ways, it also opens up the potential for new forms of bullying.

The body of evidence on teens and social media finds that cyber-bullying is a serious problem. About 25 percent of teens report being a victim of cyber-bullying. (Researchers define cyber-bullying as willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.) Studies demonstrate cyber-bullying victims are at higher risk for serious problems including psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, sleeping problems and poor appetite; thoughts about suicide;  and low self-esteem.

As a society, what can we do about this problem? Nurse-researchers from Ohio State University took a systematic look at the interventions available to help victims of cyber-bullying, as well as prevent this behavior. Their goal was to develop a framework to encourage doctors and nurses to talk with youth. But their finding can help youth in any setting to learn about and cope with cyber-bullying.

  • It is important to teach teens how to be good digital citizens. This means using technology in a responsible way and understanding the consequences of misusing technology. This means understanding what kinds of personal information is okay to share and how to use privacy settings.
  • Young people need to learn how to cope when they encounter bullying. This can include using specific scripts when they encounter a bully online, learning to ignore and block bullies and knowing when to ask a responsible adult for help.
  • Communication, social and empathy skills are essential tools. This means helping youth to imagine how another person is feeling and how to communicate their own feelings.
  • Parents need to be involved with their kids’ use of social media platforms.  This means monitoring their own children’s actions online, and being available to coach and mentor their children through this new social dynamic.

“There is no pure technological fix to cyber-bullying,” explained Dominic DiFranzo, a post-doctoral associate in Cornell’s Department of Communications. “Current automated systems that find, flag and remove aggressive content can help, but are also very inaccurate as machines can’t understand social nuance or context. Instead of finding ways to automate this problem away, we need explore new designs and models in social media platforms that increase and encourage empathy, responsibility and intervention.”

Yes, today’s youth are learning and growing in a unique social environment. But there are steps that educators, parents and health providers can take to help adolescent’s navigate this new territory as best as possible.

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