Long before technology became such a prevalent part of daily life, there were bullies. People who prey on those weaker than them to convey to their peer group that they’re stronger, smarter or better than others. They’re insecure within themselves and they feel the need to make someone else feel the way they do. The psychology behind bullying hasn't really changed. The medium used to act out this behaviour has, and with this, the profile of a typical bully has also changed.
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We raise our kids with the best of intentions. We try to help them become the best version of themselves - people we can proudly say would never intentionally make another person feel bad about themselves. But technology can compromise our good intentions, providing another outlet for their emotions, which is to them, without consequence.
Our resident Clinical Psychologist and Cyber Expert Jordan Foster explains that when children cyber bully anonymously, accountability is removed in their mind, because the victim won’t know it was them. They act on impulse to express their anger at a person, without that person ever gaining retribution.
There is also a lack of empathy among children in this situation as the reaction from the victim is not seen in real time. When a child bullies another face to face, they immediately see the reaction. But when the bullying takes place online, kids can’t empathise or feel guilty about what they’ve done, as there’s no reaction.
Because of this, a child who may not otherwise bully another person face to face, due to fear of getting in trouble, now has an anonymous outlet to express themselves. This is dramatically changing not only the characteristics of the common bully, but also increasing the amount and severity of the issue. A compounding factor in this problem, Jordan explains, is that victims are unlikely to share their experiences with their parents because they fear having their internet time revoked or devices taken away. So, these situations often go unheard of and unpunished until the victim reaches breaking point. By this stage, it is too late and the damage has been done.
Jordan’s research into the impacts of bullying has shown that victim’s self-esteem is significantly reduced and can often remain long after the bullying has stopped. This lack of development in self-esteem may also contribute to ongoing issues in developing close personal relationships. Victims of bullying are proven to show attachment issues which can include anxious and needy behaviour. Conversely, they may have difficulty with commitment and remain closed off. Both types of behaviour result in the victim’s overall struggle to maintain close personal relationships as adults.
Keeping communication lines open with kids is key, whether you suspect your child is a victim or a perpetrator of cyber bullying – Jordan has a number of suggestions to help;
If you suspect your child is being bullied, try and find out what social media platform it is occurring on. If it is a post or page that can be removed, it needs to be taken down. Most major social media platforms have Family Help Centres that give you step-by-step instructions on how to remove cyber bullying content of your child. Alternatively, parents can visit the eSafety website (www.esafety.gov.au) and find out more information on how to delete cyber bullying content.
What we don’t always consider is that children actually spend more time online when they are being cyber bullied, because they become fixated with tracking what is being said about them. Meaning that the home, with its unfettered access to the internet, can become part of the problem. Ensuring that your child is spending time offline, and setting time for access to social media is a great first step. The bullying may not stop, but it will provide your child with a mental break from constantly checking their accounts. This will also provide you time to check in with how they are, and talk about what is currently going on for them.
There are several great services available to young people that can help support and provide guidance after an experience of cyber bullying. Headspace and Youth Focus are two great organisations that provide free support services to young people.
Lastly, parents can seek guidance from their school community, whether it be the school psychologist or the Head of Year. Schools can often help to mediate conflict in peer relationships and guide parents on how to address the bullying.
If parents suspect their child may be the bully, it is important that parents have conversations with their child to help develop their ‘digital empathy’. Conversation prompts such as ‘how do you think that that comment may have affected that person?’, or of course the old faithful ‘how would you feel if someone posted that about you’, are good starting points to help your child develop their sense of emotional accountability. The next most important question to ask your child is ‘is there anything going on for you right now?’. It may be that your child is bullying as a result of them also experiencing cyber bullying, or perhaps they are feeling insecure or anxious. We can try and help solve the issue by developing understanding and care, both for themselves and for others.
At Family Zone, we understand that navigating this journey as a parent is difficult. But you're not in it alone - our team of Cyber Experts, including Clinical Psychologist Jordan Foster, can help you sort out what apps and content are appropriate for your child, and provide you with the tools and resources to help you protect your children online.
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