What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying refers to any form of harassment through the use of technology. It includes sending negative and threatening messages and posting harmful content about someone to humiliate and embarrass them.
We often consider cyberbullying a social media issue. However, its consequences reach much further than we think. Since schools and other educational institutions tend to be active participants in young people’s lives, they must know how to address issues like these adequately.
Therefore, to help schools develop adequate methods of dealing with harassment, we created a list of the most common effects cyberbullying has on students and some valuable tips on how to protect oneself from cyberbullying.
The effects of cyberbullying
1. Mental health issues
Cyberbullying is a persistent issue in all academic settings. From preschool to university-level education institutions, online harassment threatens the privacy and security of millions of students worldwide. Unfortunately, it can have a long-lasting effect on their mental well-being and cause many issues. The most common adverse effects include feelings of loneliness and anxiety, but if left unaddressed, it can lead to more severe problems such as depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse.
2. Interpersonal issues
Harassment leaves students vulnerable and exposed, making them want to withdraw from usual social activities and hide their feelings in front of their friends and family members. They often feel misunderstood and ashamed and struggle with speaking up about their feelings because they think it won’t make any difference. Victims frequently believe they’ll add fuel to the fire if they report harassment or talk about it with their loved ones.
3. Issues with carrying out everyday activities
Alongside withdrawing from social activities and detaching from friends, the stress of being bullied can affect students’ everyday activities. When the harassment is centered around a person’s physical look, it may result in avoiding physical activities and similar situations where their appearance comes into focus. Furthermore, since cyberbullying is linked to depression, it often causes an overall loss of interest in engaging in formerly enjoyable activities.
4. The decline in academic performance
Students who experience cyberbullying are more likely to suffer emotional distress that can cause them to underperform and diminish their chances of finishing their studies. In fact, in a study on cyberbullying among university students, 70% admitted that being a victim of cyberbullying adversely affected their academic performance and brought distress to their lives.
5. The decline in the ability to adapt to a school setting
Adapting to a new environment is never easy, especially for children and adolescents. It’s stressful, and they’re faced with many challenges, and cyberbullying often tends to be the last straw. A study on the relationship between cyberbullying and the ability to adapt to university showed that college students who experienced cyberbullying had negatively impacted students’ social integration and increased drop-out rates across universities.
How can students protect themselves from cyberbullying
1. Speak up
If you’ve been a cyberbullying victim or witnessed harassment, talk to someone about it. Open up to someone you can trust, and if you feel comfortable, file a police report. Cyberbullying can have grave consequences on mental health, so don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance to help you handle the issue.
2. Don’t give them attention
Regardless of how strong your urge to respond gets, the best advice is to take a breath and try to avoid any confrontation. Abusers thrive on attention, so don’t give them power over you. Simply ignore the messages you get and surround yourself with people who positively impact your well-being.
3. Store bullying messages
If you ever face online harassment, keep all the messages in case you need to use them as evidence in court. Always research how to adequately store messages to avoid your evidence getting tainted or ask an expert for advice.
4. Block and report abusers
If ignoring doesn’t work and the abusive messages become more frequent, simply use the Block feature to prevent bullies from affecting your life. Also, report offensive profiles to social media companies in charge to stop them from harassing other people and doing more harm.
With the rapid technological progress come new ways of using the technology with bad intentions. An increase in cyberbullying incidents urges schools to find effective mechanisms of handling cyberbullying without excluding neither victim nor perpetrator from participating in the traditional educational process. Educational institutions must develop frameworks for detecting cyberbullying and ensure a safe space for students to come out and report the issue. Aside from helping students to overcome the effects of cyberbullying, schools are responsible for educating their students about cyberbullying and raising awareness in the community. They must proactively support their students and promote compassion and good interpersonal relations both in school and online.