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Cyberbullying has become an unfortunate part of modern life and many teenagers, parents and teachers have become aware of its effects. As digital technology, smartphones and social media has become an essential day to day tool for many younger people, it has become harder to keep track of potentially harmful contact they may have with other people. It is important to be aware what exactly constitutes cyberbullying, its tell-tale signs and how to effectively protect against its harmful consequences.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyber-bullying is when a child, pre-teen or teenager is singled out by one or more of their peers for harassment using interactive digital technology, in particular the Internet, social media sites and instant messaging. This can include teasing, name-calling, public embarrassment and ridicule or even threats - anything which has the potential to make the victim uncomfortable. Cyberbullies can often take advantage of the online medium to torment their victims anonymously or may post messages and images publicly on platforms shared by a number of their peers, such as an online message board or school social media page. Cyberbullying must involve a minor on either side of the incident - when an adult becomes involved it becomes a case of cyberstalking or cyberharassment. Cyberbullies can often become victims of cyberbullying themselves, with the tables often turning due to escalating conflicts within social circles. This can have the effect of amplifying the exposure of cyberbullying, with more and more people becoming involved and becoming cyberbullies themselves in an effort to hit back at their tormentors.

Symptoms of Cyberbullying

The constant presence of the victim's mobile phone or laptop can make it difficult to separate from the bullying, making the victim a target for ongoing bullying and making it more difficult for adults to become aware of the issue and offer support. Studies have shown that 93% of young people have an online presence and share photos, contact details and personal information regularly. Common signs of cyberbullying can include the victim becoming more reclusive, withdrawn, and increasingly evasive about their online presence. There can be a decrease in academic performance and an increase in absenteeism. They may seem more nervous and experience a lack of self-confidence. Cyberbullying can often be accompanied by issues of negative self-image, which can have negative consequences on the victim’s long term physical and mental health.

Steps Towards a Solution

It's important to make cyberbullying victims aware that they can always tell a trustworthy adult what is happening. While they may be embarrassed about being bullied or may have potentially sent hurtful content themselves, it is better that they ask for help rather than take matters in their own hands. Encourage them to put away their phone and turn off their laptop - taking a break from the digital world is an essential first step. Parents, teachers, and guardians should establish clear rules and expectations around use of digital technology and provide adequate monitoring and supervision in its use. Few cyberbullying campaigns would be successful without the direct or indirect involvement of the victim’s peers. The first step to stopping or preventing cyberbullying is educating children and teenagers about the real life effects of cyberbullying and the upset and damage it can cause. Encourage them to think twice about sharing a post or forwarding a hurtful email if they are aware of the real emotional and physical consequences it can have. With education, support and empathy, real steps can be taken in reducing, and hopefully eliminating, cyberbullying.

David Clarke