Beware of cyberbullies

Cyberbullying (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
This article is the second in a series on some of the potential dangers that exist when using the Internet.
J., a 12-year-old sixth grader, was brought to therapy by his mother because he was refusing to go to school. When asked why he did not want to go to school, J. stated that someone was using an anonymous email address and spreading rumors to his classmates and his teachers that he cheats on tests.
J. felt humiliated and helpless to do anything to stop the cyber taunting to which he was subjected. So he opted to stay home and got very depressed.
S., a 14-year-old girl who broke up with her boyfriend, was shocked to learn that some partially nude photos that her ex-boyfriend had previously taken of her were now being circulated around the social media circuit of the girl’s friends and classmates. She was outraged and traumatized. The damage had been done, and now these photos were out there for everyone to see.
J. and S. are victims of what has been termed cyberbullying – the use of the Internet and other related technologies to intimidate, harm, manipulate and/or control others in a deliberate, repeated and hostile way.
Cyberbullying can include harassment, humiliation, disseminating rumors and defamation.
It can also include impersonating someone, disseminating someone’s personal information, threats and extortion.
In today’s virtual world, even a computer nerd can be a bully. In spite of the fact that the bully and victim do not see each other, such bullying can cause severe pain, embarrassment and emotional harm.
Cyberbullying is more widespread than you can imagine, with 10 to 25 percent of youngsters reporting that they have experienced it at some time. One Israeli study – examining a sample of 242 Israeli adolescents, between the ages of 13 and 16, who completed questionnaires about computer and Internet use – found 16.5% reporting that they were victims of cyberbullying, and 32.5% reported knowing someone who was cyber victimized (Olenik-Shemesh, D; Heiman, T; Eden, S; 2012).
The consequences for the victim of cyberbullying may include:
• Being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text or email, a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder;
• Being very reticent or protective of one’s digital life;
• Withdrawal from family members, friends, and social activities;
• Avoiding school or group gatherings and avoiding discussions about computer or smart phone activities;
• Decrease in, or complete avoidance of, using the computer or cellphone;
• Staying home from school;
• School grades beginning to fall;
• Changes in mood, particularly showing more anger and depression;
• Behavioral change; altered sleep patterns and/or appetite changes;
• Suicidal gestures or attempts.
What parents can do: Is your child a victim of cyber bullying?
1. First and foremost, it is important for parents to check in with their children on a regular basis. Kids get into bad moods for many reasons, some of which include problems with schoolwork, teachers and friends, a boyfriend or girlfriend. Be direct and ask your children how their day has been. If your child is in a bad mood, ask whether he wants to talk about it. Very often, kids will say what’s bothering them, if they feel that their parents really want to listen. Older children in their teen years may want more space, but nevertheless, it is always a good idea to ask.
2. If the child states that he is a victim of cyberbullying, listen attentively and nonjudgmentally to what your child has to say. One could share something from his/her own childhood about bullies.
After conveying the critical empathy that the child desperately needs to hear, the parents should let the child know that they will work together to figure out a solution to the problem.
3. Encourage your child not to respond to cyberbullying; it just fuels the fire and makes the situation worse.
4. It’s a good time to tell your child that before sending an email or posting a message, reread what you wrote and think before you send. Once the message is sent, it is there forever.
5. Block the bully. Most devices have settings that allow you to electronically block emails.
6. Limit access to technology. I have been told that many websites and smartphones include parental control options that give parents access to kids’ messages. Also, try to set limits on how many hours a day your child can spend on the computer. It is your right as a parent to do so. Remind your child that using the computer is a privilege.
7. Know your child’s online world. Check the postings and the sites that your kid is participating on and be prepared to educate your child about some of the dangers and risks involved in interacting with these sites.
8. If your child is very disturbed and upset by the bullying, set a meeting with the school principal and counselor to try to work out a solution to the specific problem.
This may necessitate summoning the cyberbully and his parents into the school for a meeting.
9. There are times when bullies need to be reported to the police.
However, it is preferable to try to work with school officials first and use the authority of the school to solve the problem.
10. Children who are cyberbullied can suffer from severe emotional effects and may need help from a mental health professional to address their fears and reestablish self-confidence and effective coping skills to prevent future victimization from cyberbullies.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist, with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. He also provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy. drmikegropper@,