The introduction of the internet into modern day life has given rise to a multitude of social and networking platforms that enables people to share information instantly. While this is a fantastic tool to foster friendships, sharing and learning, the flip side is that some people misuse these platforms in ways that can be hurtful. Whilst there is a not a great deal of research in cyber bullying for adults, it is estimated that cyber bullying has affected over half of all teens. Furthermore, Bullying UK states that 1 in 3 young people have received cyber threats online and about 25% of young people have been bullied repeatedly through their mobile phones and the internet.
What makes cyber bullying even more serious is that young people for the most part do not inform their parents or an adult that this is happening and therefore may persistently be bullied for a number of months or even years before telling anyone. The effects on their emotional wellbeing as a result of this can be extremely damaging and difficult to overcome.
Understand that what adults might classify as bullying is not what children experience
Adults may tend to see ‘bullying’ in a different way to young people, which is why one must be extra vigilant in recognizing and classifying bullying. As we develop into adults our perception of bullying often changes; what we might consider to be grievances or discrimination takes on an entirely different form in young people, and we may instead see this type of behaviour as being more normalized for adults. You only have to look on Facebook or Twitter to see the vast amount of negative remarks that people make towards pictures and status updates. A recent example mass cyberbullying is GamerGate, where women were forced to move home due to their personal details being published online.
For young people and teenagers, a snide comment made by someone projecting and venting their anger can be taken very seriously by a younger individual and affects that person’s feelings and wellbeing.
Why and how do people bully?
Bullied tend to be receptive to insecurities of other people and often have their own insecurities which lead them to engage in bullying behavior in the first place. Most often, bullies can be quite superficial in their approach and may focus on someone’s physical appearance such as their weight, ethnicity, facial features or fashion sense. They may focus on anything that does not conform to how they think people should look. In addition to this, bullying can begin due to jealousy; wanting or aspiring to have or be like someone else and feeling resentful that they are not. Furthermore, bullies can tend to target people that they feel have reduced confidence and self-esteem; largely because they know that these people will be more reflective of any comments they are given and it is likely to have a greater impact.
Victims of bullying and self-blame
Bullying is so detrimental because much of the time the bully will be focusing on aspects of the individual that they believe they may already be self-conscious of, and this is often exacerbated if the bully has picked up on pre-existing insecurities in the individual, which unfortunately bullies can be very good at. Being bullied affects our psyche in a way that we question the reason why we are being bullied, such questions someone may ask themselves is ‘why me?’ or ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ This can begin a trail of negative thinking about one’s self, self-blame, self-pity, dwelling and over thinking on what has been said and can cause the individual to wonder why this person doesn’t like them.
The effects of cyber bullying vary between individuals.
The short-term effects may be worrying:
2. hyper sensitivity and hyper vigilance,
3. withdrawn behaviour,
4. low mood,
5. becoming tearful and upset,
6. low self-esteem,
7. avoidance of social situations/work/school/social networking,
8. the loss of weight and
9. self-harming behaviour.
The result of being picked on can be extreme sensitivity and hypervigilance to the aspect or trait the bully has focused on, particularly where there was a pre-existing insecurity, and may lead the individual to avoid in every way possible being subjected or leaving themselves exposed to this again. Unfortunately, this could result in the individual avoiding anything that may leave them vulnerable to being bullied, rational or irrational and may have a noticeable negative affect on their personality. Aggressive behavior towards a young person can create a range of mental health and emotional wellbeing concerns that may last for a short time or persist for a number of years.
How bullying and aggression can lead to long-term difficulties
The long-term effects may include some or all of the above as well but noticeably the difficulties will persist. It may cause the individual to have difficulties with
1. social interaction,
2. affect making and sustaining future relationships,
3. becoming depressed
4. self-harm or
5. attempts at taking their life.
In most cases, the perception that an individual has of themselves dramatically reduces and they may have persistent thoughts like ‘I’m worthless, I’m rubbish, nobody likes me’ which may exacerbate many of the symptoms above.
Why bully in the first place?
There are many reasons why someone may be a bully. It can often be led by the bully’s own insecurities about themselves. These insecurities may have developed as a result of being bullied themselves, perhaps by peers or even within the family context. Some people may not even be aware that they are a bully and this may be due to conditioning of early childhood experiences where they were bullied and see that type of behaviour as the norm. In other circumstances where that individual may not have been bullied, perhaps a traumatic event in childhood may have lead that person to acquire a personality that can be quite blaming, resentful or spiteful and this can be projected onto those individuals around them. Understanding why bullies act in the way they do is certainly useful, particularly in the school environment as teachers and professionals can become more aware of what symptoms to look out for in potential bullies.
Averting bullying and stopping cyber bullies in their tracks
Preventing bullying completely would be extremely difficult as bullying can take on many forms and each individual experiences different things in different ways; what one person considers bullying, another may consider it joking or character building. Therefore, managing bullying may be a much more proficient way of coping with it. With raising awareness of bullying, in adults as well as children, individuals would be better at spotting or noticing this type of behaviour and taking measures to reduce it or prevent it.
Bullying and suicide
Unfortunately some young people have taken their lives as a result of cyber bullying and there is evidence of this across many parts of the world. I heard of a 15-year-old boy last year that took his life in the UAE and it is such a tragedy. As such, a Foundation is being set up by his parents to support young people experiencing depression and low mood, which could be as a result of bullying. Suicide as a result of bullying is certainly something everyone should be concerned about, in both young people and adults. Bullying and persistent bullying can lead to such low mood that the individual sees no other way of ending their suffering than to take their life. We as a society may be more aware of bullying and its effects and this may be why we have heightened arousal about it, but also, there are far more ways of bullying now than there was 10 or 20 years ago.
With the variety of methods available via social networking, it’s now easier than ever to bully someone. I worked with a young female recently who was being bullied on at least 3 different platforms, mainly by the same group of individuals and this had led to her self-harming and consideration about taking her life. Sometimes people can just feel that this is the only way they can get it to stop. Most people believe that by telling someone they are being bullied, this will only make the bully persist. However, I would encourage that person to always highlight that they feel as though they are being targeted, otherwise you are solely relying on the bully to stop naturally, which is lots of cases will not automatically happen.