Teen cyberbullying is more common than most of us think. The good news: Parents can combat the negative consequences.
Did you know some teens are checking their social media pages more than 100 times a day? That's one of the shocking stats to come out of #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens, a study by CNN that took a deep dive into the social media worlds of 200 typical teens.
Perhaps more disturbing, though, is the reason behind these kids' impulsive behavior—nearly a quarter said they were logging in simply to make sure no one was saying mean things about them. One study participant named Zack said he regularly follows the accounts of his "enemies" so he can keep tabs on their conversations. "I want to see what they're talking about and if they're talking about me. Because if they're talking about me, I'm going to talk about them," he said.
"We see a lot of evidence of, if not out-right addiction to social media, a heavy dependence on it," said sociologist Robert Faris, a school bullying and youth aggression researcher who co-authored the study. "There's a lot of anxiety about what's going on online, when they're not actually online, so that leads to compulsive checking."
And it seems these kids' fears aren't unfounded. The study—which had more than 200 eighth-graders from six different states share the content of their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds for six months (which added up to 150,000 posts and messages, by the way!)—discovered a lot of bullying. "Go die. Stop trying to be popular. Holy s**t your (sic) ugly," read one social media post sent to a girl in the study.
- RELATED: How to Identify Bullying
Shocked? You're not alone. According to the study, almost all parents (94 percent) underestimated the amount of fighting happening on social media.
The good news? Parents make a huge difference. "Parent monitoring effectively erased the negative effects of online conflicts," Fairs said.
Because cyberbullying can have a host of negative effects—from anxiety to substance abuse, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts or actions—it's worth it to keep a close eye on your child's social media activity.
"Between texting, social media sites, and live video streaming, cyberbullying is easier than ever, but the signs are often difficult to spot," says Yoko Liriano, director of city-wide teen programs for the YMCA of Greater New York. Here, Liriano offers six tips to help protect your child from the harmful effects of cyberbullying.
- Get face time with your kidsthe old-fashioned way. Spend time with your kids every day and give them your full, undivided attention. Turn off cell phones, TVs, and computers to create a conversation-friendly environment.
- Learn the signs. A child who is being bullied may have a loss of appetite, lose interest in favorite activities, and withdraw socially and emotionally in other ways. Watch for changes in behavior and seek help if you suspect something is wrong.
- Be available to talk, but don't force it. Kids may feel embarrassed, ashamed, angry, or confused about being bullied, and it may be difficult for them to talk about it with you. Give them time to open up and let them know you are there and will be supportive if they need your help.
- Let them know it's not their fault. Never blame a child for being bullied or for not "fighting back." It can be helpful to share one or two your own personal stories so they know they aren'tthe only ones to experience this kind of behavior or feel the way they do.
- Help find positive ways for them to feel empowered and regain self-esteem. Show that you are committed to helping them resolve the issue, and talk through ways to address or cope with the bullying behavior.
- Be a model for kind behavior. Set the right example for your kids and avoid making negative or bullying comments about others—online or in person.
Kaitlin Ahern is the Editor of Parents.com. She lives in Brooklyn, loves to run and cook, and spends more time on social media than she cares to admit. Follow her on Instagram.