Cyberbullying and its impact on Child and Adolescent

A 13 years old girl visited outpatient service for suicidal attempt. We discussed with her about the incident. She informed us that one of her friends had posted her semi – nude pictures on social media. Her dad saw the picture and scolded her terribly. Her dad was in rage and without informing anything about her mistake; he punished her brutally. Later, her mom informed her why her dad acted so. She, being one of the brightest kids in her class, and at home, was behaved like an animal which forced her to commit suicide. She had to go through shame and guilt without wrongdoing. She explained that her photo was photo shopped and posted in social media. Her dad, too, was in shame and guilt once he knew the truth. Here, one misunderstanding led almost to the loss of a life and a family.

Bullying or traditional bullying is the use of threat, force or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others. Such behaviour is usually repeated and habitual and is characterized by an imbalance of power which may include verbal harassment or threat as well as physical assault or coercion. Bullying means systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress against others.

Cyberbullying is an unfortunate social-product of recent communication technologies, particularly, social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and so on. Cyberbullying may involve posting rumours, threats, sexual remarks, personal or confidential information, or pejorative labels. With the rise of social media comments, posts, photos and content shared by individuals can often be viewed by acquaintances as well as strangers. The content shared by an individual online creates a kind of a permanent public record of their views, activities and behaviour. Cyberbullying can harm the online reputation of the person being bullied or the victim as well as the persons who participate in or incite bullying behaviour or the perpetrator. Cyberbullying is highly dangerous due to various reasons. It is mostly unavoidable due to following few reasons:

It is Persistent: Cyberbullying is persistent in the sense that victims can hardly find any relief from it as digital devices and internet offers the ability to continuously and immediately communicate 24 hours a day. This form of bullying can happen at any time and any place and victims cannot escape it.

It is Permanent: Most information communicated online is permanent and public if it is not reported and removed. This is known as a digital footprint or digital shadow which refers to one’s unique set of traceable digital activities, actions, contributions and communications that are manifested on the internet or on digital devices.

It is hard to notice: It is hard to notice because parents, teacher or guardians may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place and thus it may go unnoticed or unrecognized. Moreover, adolescents often do not tell their parents or guardians about being cyberbullied.

People may experience many forms of cyberbullying, yet they may not be aware that they are being bullied. Let me discuss few forms of cyberbullying. The first one is Flaming where people are target to use vulgar words and rude languages not in the messages but in the public platforms. People experience a lot of cyber harassment with includes messages, pictures, videos, etc.  Many people experience denigrations which means that rumors spread about them with fake ID’s, their email being hacked or their social media is hacked. They go through lot of emotional and social chaos. The other form is Impersonation where individual secrets are revealed in the public platform. People even do not understand what information to be shared in public and personal life. Some of them are made to be felt alone by blocking them or removing them from certain group of networks.

Impact of Cyberbullying on Mental Health

Cyberbullying is present in today’s world and all ages of people, be it adults, children or adolescent, are being affected by it. It brings emotional stress and negative emotions such as anger, fear, and depression in all age groups. WHO defines health as overall well- being of an individual which includes emotional well-being, social well-being and psychological well- being.

Our mental health is being affected by cyberbullying. As how we think, feel and behave is poisoned with negativity rather than positivity, our mental health deteriorates. Person’s ability to enjoy life, attain a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience is diminished.

Cyberbullying is associated with emotional stress, social anxiety, substance use, depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. While, 24.5% of adolescents do not care about the incidents as explained in ‘The emotional impact of bullying and cyberbullying on victims: a European cross-national study’. Cyberbullying may have even more harmful outcomes to adolescents’ mental health, including substance abuse, increased suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.

Cyberbullying has been associated with depressive symptomatology in several researches. Researchers reported that it may lead to relationship problems, hyperactivity-inattention problems, behavior problems, school-related problems, and risky behavior on the internet, such as posting personal information, using a web camera and online harassment. They even have psychosomatic problems (headache, abdominal pain and sleep problems), presented higher levels of perceived difficulties, emotional problems, peer and social difficulties, as well as not feeling safe at school and not feeling properly looked after by teachers

It is obvious that any students would avoid to attend school due to fear that the entire student witnessed attacks on them. At home they may show atypical and even abnormal behaviour. For example, parents of children who are cyberbullied often notice their children withdraw and disconnect from regular family routines.

Methods to Prevent

As such, maintaining good mental health is as important as maintaining sound physical health to live a long and healthy life. One has to be educated about the bullying and cyber bullying. Parents and teachers can play vital role on monitoring, educating and explaining today’s youth and children about bullying openly.

    • Awareness on its impact has to be delivered from all form i.e school, home and community in our country.

    • Observing and listening to child and adolescents about their behaviour change and their issues before coming to a conclusion.

    • Open environment to talk about any issues that one has.

    • Zero tolerance policy about bullying and cyber bullying at home, school and community.

    • Ask for help and support with experts if needed.

    • Limit the screen time. Monitor the content that children and adolescent are exposed to. Always use healthy habits to address one’s mental health.

(Sah is a Clinical psychologist and Consultant at Child and Adolescent psychiatry Department, Kanti Children Hospital. Sah acts as the CEO of Subhamanagal Group Pvt. Ltd, a center for psychological services.)