Cyberbullying and Kids

We hear a lot about “cyberbullying” and the impact it can have on young people today. A recent study published in American Family Physician reveals that between 10 and 35 percent of adolescents say they have been cyberbullied. With the average teenager on screens for about 10 hours a day, there is a growing arena in which this type of bullying can occur.

Cyberbullying is the intentional use of media (texting, email, social media, online gaming, instant messaging, etc.) to convey false, embarrassing or hostile information about someone else. Similar to off-line bullying, victims of cyberbullying can experience a variety of harmful symptoms, including depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, declining school performance, and physical symptoms, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches and stomachaches. Today we know that bullying can have lasting impact even into adulthood.

Many of the ways parents can protect children from cyberbullying are also helpful strategies for general online oversight. Given the amount of time young people spend in front of screens, developing a proactive plan for supervising online activity is important.

  • Monitor social media activity. While the level and type of monitoring depend on the child’s age and unique circumstances, parents should know how their children spend time online, including the social media sites they use. It’s appropriate, particularly with young children, to frequently monitor social media accounts.
  • Limit screen time. Again, depending on your child’s age, set limits on daily screen time and establish rules to help kids “unplug”—such as putting phones and devices away during dinner and before bedtime.
  • Watch for signs. If you see behavior changes or your child exhibits uncharacteristic symptoms, tell him or her you’ve noticed and talk about the situation. If you suspect your child is having difficulty at school or with friends, consider whether online activity or social media may be playing a role.

Navigating childhood and adolescence can be challenging for children. It’s important they know concerned parents and family members are available to help. Your family doctor is also a good resource for assistance dealing with these issues.

Jessica Saberman, MD

Author of this Article

Jessica Saberman, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 9757 Westpoint Dr., Suite 100, Indianapolis, 46256. Dr. Saberman can be reached by calling the office at 317.944.0460.

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