Cyberbullying and Depression in Children

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Chances are that you have at least one computer with Internet access in your home, which your child uses for fun and learning. While you may be vigilant about monitoring your child's use and restricting access to inappropriate content, you may not be aware that Internet bullying -- cyberbullying -- can occur through simple emails, instant messages or postings created by others.

Like other forms of bullying, serious consequences like depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior have been linked to cyberbullying, according to Dr. Jeff Hutchinson, an adolescent medicine specialist in Washington, D.C.

Fortunately, your awareness and vigilance can keep your child safe from cyberbullying.

How Cyberbullying Affects Children

Victims of cyberbullying can experience symptoms of depression including sadness, loneliness, insecurity, poor self-esteem, academic decline, feelings of not belonging and suicidal thoughts and behavior. Nancy Willard, author of Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress, indicates that the effects of cyberbullying may be more damaging than in-school bullying because cyberbullied children do not have the opportunity to escape the harassment. Due to the anonymous nature of some Internet harassment, victims may not be able to identify their harasser and feel that everyone is against them.

How Common is Cyberbullying?

Dr. Michele Ybarra and colleagues published a study on Internet harassment among children in Pediatrics in 2007; approximately 9% of children in their study who used the Internet were victims of some form of Internet harassment.

In their study, the researchers found that only half of the victims knew their harasser and that boys and girls were equally involved. Approximately 25% of children who were cyberbullied were also bullied in a different setting. Interestingly, they found that the odds of being harassed online increased significantly for those who also harassed others.

Direct Cyberbully Attacks

Direct Internet attacks occurs when a bully shows aggression toward another person directly either through email, instant messaging, chat rooms or wall posts. This can range from insulting comments to threats of physical violence.

Cyberbullying by Proxy

Cyberbullying by proxy occurs when a person uses another person's email address or user name, or creates an imposter account to harass a victim. The bully may contact everyone in his address book and spreads lies, hateful messages, or reveal contact or personal information about the victim. In some cases, websites dedicated to harassing and bashing a person have been created. In the case of cyberbullying by proxy, the victim may not be able to identify who the harasser is.

What Can Parents Do About Cyberbullying

Talk to your children about appropriate Internet behavior, and discuss consequences for misuse. Monitor your child's use and time spent on the Internet. Keeping the computer in a common area may decrease temptation to engage in inappropriate activity.

Dr. Parry Aftab, attorney and children's advocate for safe Internet use, suggests searching for your child's name on the Internet to make sure negative or false information has not been posted, or that your child is not linked to harassing content.

If bullying behavior, harassment or misuse is identified, notify the website or application's administration immediately to see if they can help launch an investigation into the incident. Contact the police if your child is being contacted or harassed by an adult, if any threats are made against your child, or if efforts to stop the harassment have failed. Notifying your child's school about cyberbullying may also be effective when the bully can be identified.

If you notice symptoms of depression in your child, consult with his physician. A physician can determine whether your child has depression and recommend appropriate treatment.

Sources:

Cyberbullying. American Academy of Pediatrics. Accessed: July 14, 2010. http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Cyberbullying.aspx

Glew, G.M., Fan, M-Y., Katon, W., Rivara, F.P., Kernic, M.A. "Bullying, Psychosial Adjustment, and Academic Performance in Elementary School." Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2005, 1026-1032.

Michele L. Ybarra, M.P.H, Ph.D, Marie Diener-West, Ph.D., and Philip J. Leaf, PhD. "Examining the Overlap in Internet Harassment and School Bullying: Implications for School Intervention." Journal of Adolescent Health 2007, 41: S42-S50.

Nancy E. Willard. "Cyberbully and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Aggression, Threats, and Distress. Second Edition." Research Press. 2007.

WiredKids.com. WiredKids, Inc.. Accessed: July 12, 2010.

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