“The bullying was painful and hurtful to me, and I wanted other people to know how it affected me. I made new friends who had also experienced cyberbullying, and together we decided that we wanted online bullies to realise that they could seriously hurt someone…..”
– An excerpt from Jessica Davies’ story
Unlike school corridors and classrooms, the virtual world remains largely unsupervised, providing an open space for bullies to target children and victimise them. Unfortunately, because it happens online, cyberbullying frequently goes completely unnoticed by adults.
What is important for teachers to consider is that there is a lot of evidence that points to the fact cyberbullying has far reaching consequences for individuals, sometimes proving to be fatal. Here is a video of a brave 14-year-old girl who talks about her experience and how it almost led to her taking her own life.
As children go through the various stages of adolescence, they are already beginning to deal with emotional and psychological changes that make them vulnerable; add to that a bully, whose sole objective is to torment and terrify, and it will undoubtedly lead to an unhealthy and unhappy child.
Cyberbullying affects children in a number of ways and can have long lasting consequences, if not identified and addressed early on:
Victims of cyberbullying often feel like punch bags, as bullies constantly target them across various internet platforms. Bullying robs children of their sense of self-worth and security, leaving them feeling exposed and weak. Emotionally, children may withdraw from activities they once enjoyed or perform poorly at school as they lose confidence in their abilities.
Constant name-calling and teasing can seriously hurt a child’s self-esteem causing them to develop deeper and more serious emotional problems as they go through adolescence.
Anxiety and Depression
Naturally, once a child’s self-esteem is eroded, they begin to spiral down a path of negativity and self-doubt, eventually experiencing serious psychological issues. The constant stress of being targeted online can make a child feel isolated, humiliated and extremely nervous in social situations. Collectively, these emotions can lead to serious mental damage, causing full blown depressive episodes in some cases.
According to Dr Bijlani, who works at the Priory Hospital, Roehampton, in south-west London, “Children often fear reporting abuse and only later in life do these issues surface in the form of depression, stress, anxiety and other serious psychological conditions.”
In some instances, children might lash out and behave aggressively as a means to cope with the constant fear and pressure of being bullied. Unfortunately, in such cases the child is often subjected to further criticism from parents and teachers who are unaware of what is really going on.
Self-harm and suicidal thoughts
Self-harm is more common than we realise and very often results from being constantly victimised and targeted by a bully. An article in The Huffington Post claims “almost half of school staff believe students under their tutelage have self-harmed and almost one in five were aware of youngsters attempting suicide, according to a new survey.” Some staff said cyberbullying and the desire to feel popular were among the most common causes of stress among their pupils.
A particularly alarming survey by ChildLine, Selfharm.co.uk, YouthNet and YoungMinds, revealed that 25% of children cited bullying as a cause for self-harm and almost 40% said that they had never talked about it to anyone in the ‘real world’. Furthermore, ChildLine registered an 87% rise in calls about cyberbullying last year, a 41% increase in calls about self-harm, with the highest increase among 12- to15 year olds.
The Department of Health has recently commissioned a study into the possible links between suicide and the internet, the results of which will be made available in two years. A spokeswoman from the department stated that mental health was a priority for the Government and indicated the introduction of internet safety into the national curriculum.
If you are worried that your students are being bullied online, here are some signs to look out for: (keep in mind that these symptoms could be the result of other issues as well)
- Reduced self-esteem
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Reluctance to let parents or other adults anywhere near their laptops etc.
- Finding reasons to stay away from school and other activities
- Marks on the skin that could indicate self-harm
- A marked change in personality i.e. anger, depression, crying, appearing withdrawn
Securus helps schools implement e-Safety measures that protect children from potential harm. Share your thoughts with us on this issue in the comments section, or connect with us on LinkedIn or Twitter to know more about how we can help.