As technology changes, the way we connect and communicate changes as well. The parents of today’s youth used to connect with people in person or over the phone. The way youth communicate now is almost entirely electronic, they connect with one another through texts, posts, and tweets.
As the way, youth interact with one another, shifts to the online world, so does the way they bully.
Nearly one in five Canadians have experienced some form of cyberbullying, cyberstalking, or cyberharassment, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada.
One of the largest problems with cyberbullying is that the harassment can be constant, the victims can be bullied 24 hours a day through their cellphones or computers.
Cyberbullying research consultant, Jin Lee, says kids don’t see it as an online phenomenon like the teachers and parents do.
“Cyberbullying is an area they are more comfortable in; kids are more likely to do it because it’s more accessible to them.” he says.
Examples of cyberbullying can range, from sending a hurtful text to posting an unflattering image of someone, without their permission.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the outlets where most of the cyberbullying occurs. Although, a lot of online bullying happens through text messages, E-mail, and online forums.
One of the issues with cyberbullying is, a lot of people have a falsely held belief, where they think what they do online can’t be traced back to them.
“They think that once they go online they’re anonymous, which is not true,” Mr. Lee said, “In many instances we can trace back and find out who the offender is.”
David Selby, of the Durham Regional Police, says an array of charges, from criminal harassment to uttering threats, can be applied to a cyberbully depending on the case.
“Charges are going to stem from whatever evidence is available at the time of the investigation,” Mr. Selby said.
The cyberbully of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old teen who took her own life back in 2012, is being sentenced to nearly 11 years in prison.
The impacts of cyberbullying don’t usually lead children to take their lives, but Canadians who are bullied at least once a week, have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety, headaches, back aches, stomach aches, and dizziness.
Victims often develop a sense of worthlessness, feeling they can’t do anything about their situation. Many suffer from depression, social withdrawal, aggression, and will avoid electronic communication.
Young internet users who are cyberbullied are almost three times more likely to have an emotional, psychological, or mental health condition, according to Statistics Canada.
Some of the effects of cyberbullying, such as a lack of trust in others, stays with the victims into adulthood.
“Victims of cyber bully can develop a mistrust of people in general,” Mr. Lee said. “The mistrust is one of the bigger impacts; loss of identity, loss of sense of self, loss of confidence, loss of belief, loss of self-worth and value are some others.”
To prevent future incidents of cyberbullying, Mr. Lee says, he wants the way it is dealt with to move from a reactive to a proactive approach.
“I think prevention strategies have to be thought of in a diverse range of ways,” Mr. Lee said. “But they certainly need to be proactive and I would believe it’s through education and follow-ups.”
He says, encouraging victims to come forward is key in preventing future instances of cyberbullying. Many kids don’t come forward, for a variety of reasons, but a main contributor to the problem is, kids have this misconception they aren’t cool if they get picked on.
“I think it starts from a young age, where you instill in them the understanding that it’s okay if you get bullied, you’re not the only one, it’s okay.”
Educating elementary school students, about the impact cyberbullying has on its victims, is one of the practical ways to prevent cyberbullying, according to Mr. Lee.
He also says, there needs to be more resources available for victims of cyberbullying.
“We need to establish a one stop resource that is accessible, and where you can get help from people that understand,” Mr. Lee said.
He would like to see a judgment free facility where victims can access help. A place with employees who; understand the impact of cyberbullying, and how to get victims out of their current situation.
Another thing, which can help prevent cyberbullying, is getting the parents and children to understand the issue.
“It starts with that communication. We need to get parents and youth early. We need to get them to understand simultaneously that this is real, it has impact. It’s not just the Todd case or the Parsons case that end up like this,” Mr. Lee said.
As more avenues for communication arise in the online world, there will be more opportunities for people to cyberbully. With rates consistently climbing, it is important for parents to know the signs of cyberbullying and what to do about it. If any youth are victims of bullying or cyberbullying, they can talk to a counsellor from Kids Help Phone, at 1-800-668-6868.