In this digitally connected world, technological advancements are changing the way we meet, live and work. The COVID-19 pandemic has further elevated digitalisation to an extent one has never been seen before. Amidst the current situation, we are observing a digital push across the globe, with some nations better prepared than others.
The wide spread acceleration of technologies has opened doors to new opportunities and threats. A significant increase in the number of internet users around the world has been witnessed. It has skyrocketed to 4.66 billion globally in January 2021 with Asia leading at 2.5 billion users and Europe with 728 million users. With this exponential online footprint, we are also experiencing a great surge in cyber stalking, cyber fraud and especially cyber bullying among children, which has become a serious concern for parents these days.
Cyberbullying is defined by Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC) as the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices”. Cyberbullying is dangerous and can lead to other mental health related issues in the victims. It may take place via any E-mail, SMS, Text, and other applications, as well as especially through social media, blogs, or game platforms. It involves sending, uploading, or sharing nasty, damaging, false, or derogatory content about another person. It might also include disclosing personal or private information about an individual that causes shame or humiliation for the individual.
60 percent of parents with children aged 14 to 18 reported them being bullied. One-fifth of all bullying occurs through social media
While these online actions may appear innocuous or even malicious to the offender, they have far-reaching consequences on the victim’s thinking as compared to a humorous prank performed on a high school or a college pal. This is due to the derogatory character of the information published on internet platforms or on their related text messaging sites. The information can be threatening and may include sexual innuendos, hate messages, obscene photos, defamatory rumors. Furthermore, it can be perpetrated on the victim by a single person or a group of individuals.
41% of people who were cyberbullied developed social anxiety and 37% of them developed depression, while 26% even had suicidal thoughts
Cyberbullying has long-term psychological impact over emotional and mental behavioral development of an individual. Continuous cyberbullying can have a detrimental impact on the victim’s mental health. The victim experiences sadness, anxiety, depression, sleep issues, suicidal ideation, low self-esteem, rage, and frustration etc.
The Most Interesting Cyberbullying Facts
(Source: Djuraskovic, 2021; Patchin & Hinduja, 2019)
In 2018, India, Brazil and the United States were the top 3 countries where cyberbullying was the most prevalent. Whereas Russia, Japan, Chile, and France were figured on the list of those countries where parents reported the least cases of cyberbullying. Over 37% of Indian parents have admitted that their children have been victims of cyberbullying at least once.
Image source: Statista
Effects of Cyberbullying on Mental Health
There is a list of effects of cyberbullying on mental health of children and are elaborated in the following:
Low Self Esteem
Bullying has a persistent negative impact on the mental health of children and young people. Victims experience loneliness and social isolation as a result of a lack of acceptability in their peer groups. As a result, the young person’s social disengagement is likely to result in low self-esteem and despair.
Victims may also develop a strong discontent with themselves. As a result, people may begin to question their own worth. Cyberbullying could also damage self-esteem and self-worth to such an extent that can lead to depression and anxiety.
Poor Academic Performance
According to a research, victims of cyberbullying are found unable to concentrate on their academics because they are under a tremendous deal of emotional stress, and their academic achievement suffers as a result. Since the victims are frequently mentally harmed, cyberbullying has a negative effect that inhibits kids from performing well in their schoolwork.
Students who are bullied do worse academically. They avoid taking part in class discussions or answering questions because they are afraid of being bullied. As a result, teachers frequently label those children as underachievers or uninterested students. Teachers may therefore pay less attention to such children, eventually pushing them lower down the academic ranks.
According to a recent study, 32% of children who are targets of cyberbullying report feeling at least one stress symptom. In addition to being disturbed, they may feel embarrassed, hurt, and even afraid for their safety. They may even hold their own selves responsible for being the victims of cyberbullying. It was discovered that cortisol secretion patterns and perceived stress in 11–18-year-olds are associated with cyberbully victims and exhibiting higher cortisol secretion levels and greater perceived stress than cyberbullies and cyber bystanders.
According to the majority of research, higher levels of cyberbullying are associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and poorer levels of subjective well-being. Victims may experience severe post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. A growing corpus of studies has begun to find psychological correlates of cyberbullying that are equivalent to bullying outcomes, such as increased anxiety and emotional distress. The victims of cyberbullying have reported substantially greater levels of global anxiety than participants who reported no involvement in cyberbullying as a bully or a victim.
Being bullied, verbally assaulted, or harassed online may wreak havoc on a young person’s mind, resulting in a slew of problems, including depression and anxiety. There is no way to avoid online bullying except to ignore technology, which is difficult for today’s youngsters and teens. This continual onslaught of harassment may be frightening, tiring, and heartbreaking. Having such thoughts on a regular basis can lead to anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Many people may also experience a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness in their lives. They may lose interest in previously loved activities and spend less time connecting with family and friends. In addition, coping with cyberbullying on a regular basis may deprive individuals of their joy and satisfaction. It can also heighten feelings of anxiety and loneliness.
Suicide and Self Harm
Students who have been cyberbullied are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as compared to those who have not been. Targets of cyberbullying may react to their overwhelming emotions by injuring themselves in some ways. Some people, for example, may engage in self-harm, such as slashing or burning themselves. Some may even end their own lives considering it the only way to get over the situation or relieve the pain.
According to Health Behavior News Service, Spanish researchers discovered that victims of cyberbullying are at a greater risk for psychological and behavioral health issues, including drug misuse, after six months of bullying. Substance addiction can entail the use of alcohol and drugs as an “escape” for the individual being bullied.
Call to Action
Although most countries have laws against bullying and harassment, not many countries have laws specifically against cyberbullying. Countries that already have laws against it should review and update them with the passage of time. Laws should be stringent enough specifying what classifies as cyberbullying along with fines, punishment and other necessary provisions.
Redress mechanisms such as directly approaching the courts even when the individual is a minor without parental consent should be available. The cyber cells should play an active role in helping to solve cyberbullying cases as quickly as possible along with the law enforcement and courts.
Apps and digital initiatives should be introduced to enable victims of cyberbullying to obtain assistance, either to report the perpetrator or to seek assistance in coping with physical and emotional difficulties. Round-the-clock anti-bullying helplines should also be introduced with trained personnel. Once a case is reported, appropriate actions should be taken by the cyber cell and law enforcement.
Social media and other social networking sites should provide relevant data and information. It may include details about the perpetrator and the nature of the content immediately when a case of cyberbullying is filed. These sites should also provide anti-cyberbullying solutions such as flagging, blocking and reporting along with preventive and reactive measures, including safety or help centers. When a post or profile is flagged and reported, the concerned site should look into it and take appropriate measures against the individual such as suspending the account. Preventative and reactive measures include educating individuals about cyberbullying — what it is, how to stop it, how to report, flag and block accounts along with providing some sort of assistance to the victims.
Schools and parents should also play a key role in raising awareness on cyberbullying. Students should be taught how to protect themselves from cyberbullying along with what to do if it happens. If a child complains about it, they should be heard, and appropriate actions should be taken against the bullies. Children should be encouraged to communicate with their parents or another trustworthy adult or a school counsellor if they face any cyberbullying issues. Schools should also have anti-cyberbullying policies and children and parents should be informed about them. In case a student is found as a victim, necessary support should be provided by the school. If a student is found as the bully, appropriate actions should also be taken against him/her.
Moreover, governments around the world should launch and support awareness campaigns on cyberbullying and how to protect and report it to the respective authorities. Along with the technical awareness, the campaigns should also educate the public, especially the young children, about the physical and psychological implications of cyberbullying on their health.
Stuti M is a psychology graduate. She is currently doing her internship at the Global Foundation of Cyber Studies & Research, USA.