A Rising Trend Emerges In Teens – What Every Parent Needs To Know

As kids and teens become more active online, there is greater cause for concern and need for vigilance by parents.

Our top concern is always our children’s safety, and it may be difficult to know when they have gotten themselves into a difficult situation online.

One of the important issues we need to be aware of is cyberbullying – and who it affects most and why can help us to raise awareness.

Cyberbullying can take many forms – from spreading rumors, to demeaning someone in an online post, to making outright threats of physical violence.

While anyone of any age can be a victim, statistics show that most teenagers have had at least one experience with cyberbullying, and it is the teenage population that makes up the greatest percentage of both bullies and victims.

Cyberbullying in teens can lead to depression and anxiety, and of greatest concern, suicide.

A study by the National Center for Education Statistics reports that girls have been bullied online far more than boys – at a rate of three to one.

So what is the reason for this gender disparity in this increasingly dangerous crime?

It has a great deal to do with the traditional roles boys and girls play in society.  In general, boys often handle conflict physically, and girls react more emotionally.

Especially as girls enter their teenage years, they tend to form more emotional relationships. 

They socialize differently than boys and tend to share more personal information with their peers as a way to strengthen social bonds.

And it is this information that is often used in a cyberbullying attack.  While boys may handle a disagreement with a physical fight, girls often take revenge by doing emotional harm with personal information.

Gossip, spreading rumors, and undermining someone’s self-confidence online are more likely to be done by teen girls.  When emotionally hurt, for example in a romantic breakup or fight with a friend, girls tend to lash out in the same way – by doing emotional harm.  

Not only does this include sometimes vicious comments, but embarrassing photos or messages can also be posted, as with the dangerous trend of “sextortion,” one of the most devastating forms of cyberbullying committed by and against girls.

And while boys are somewhat more likely to brush off these types of attacks, girls who are bullied online tend to internalize them and feel “shunned” from their peer group.

It is also important to understand that parents – and adults in general – tend to think that spreading rumors and gossiping is “just something teen girls do,” and bullying comments by girls are often dismissed more quickly than if a boy made a similar comment.

But the consequences can be devastating.

Emotional cyberbullying, rather than physically “picking on” someone or name-calling in person, can be far more harmful.  

Girls are often the aggressors in emotional bullying, but also more apt to suffer more greatly as victims because of the way they socialize.

More and more, cyberbullying is done through social media – and the effects on the victim are compounded because so many other people see what is being said or done in online posts.  

It’s then more ostracizing and isolating to the victim when more people know – key components of teen depression and suicide – because other peers often get involved and take sides.

Most social media platforms now recognize the dangers of cyberbullying and are adding features that flag posts that are suspect.

But the key is for parents to monitor their child’s online activity and watch for any changes in behavior, like becoming withdrawn or changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Any suspected case of cyberbullying should be reported to the social media platform’s administrators, and then an honest parent/child discussion should take place to determine the severity of the incident and the best course of action.

Pediatricians are also realizing the growing danger of cyberbullying and the need to make it a part of regular screening tools during checkups.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that doctors who work with teenagers should ask about social media use, as well as advise teens of what to look for when it comes to cyberbullying.

Nearly all teens – and most kids over the age of ten – now have their own cell phones or a personal computer.

And as they get older and form more personal relationships with peers, the dangers of online bullying increase.

We are learning more and more that bullying is no longer relegated to being pushed down on the playground or having lunch money stolen.  It’s becoming far more dark and widespread, and the more we live in a digital world, the more likely the problem will worsen.

Has your child or someone you know ever been a victim of cyberbullying?  Why do you think girls and boys bully differently?  Leave us your thoughts.

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