Social media … a new frontier for bullies?

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There was a time when bullying took place on the playground. Now, it’s done through social media. In its intended form, social media is a tremendous platform of communications. The downside, however, is the ease in which it can be used to cause psychological and emotional distress to others.

It’s well documented that today’s tech savvy generation has posted disturbing messages, videos, and images, and used cell phones to send comments that revealed private or personally embarrassing information. This form of cyber-bullying causes depression, anger, embarrassment, and poor self-esteem—not to mention lack of production in the classroom.

Daphne Young, vice president of Communications and Prevention Education for ChildHelp, said a child’s life can be an open book, and social media puts them at risk to predators and cyber bullies. “Social media can be an insidious disease that leaves unsuspecting parents groping for answers about how to protect their children and who to trust,” she said. “Kids who go online are entering a portal that is a completely different mental and emotional world, one in which they unknowingly could be groomed for abuse and ridicule—or they could be the ones who are perpetuating mean, tough talk. This is a legitimate concern.”

“Speak Up and Be Safe” is an educational program offered by ChildHelp that provides information for both parents and children. “When the mind of a child is forming, it is easy to slip into a fantasy world,” Young said. “It is important to be your child’s parent, not a best friend. Parents need to be a part of their child’s life, and take control to make sure they are out of harm’s way.”

Dr. Mitch Spero, a licensed psychologist and director of Child & Family Psychologists in Sunrise, said the psychological issues associated with abusive messages are anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. “These are harmful, and can have long-lasting effects,” he said.

According to Sgt. Steve Feeley of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, cyber-bullying is a law enforcement issue. “We have had calls about stalking, kids threatening bodily harm, and damaging property,” he said. “There is zero tolerance for such actions, and since it’s a public safety issue, we take each case very seriously.”

There is a fixation among all age groups to use social media to manage and maintain friendships. Unfortunately, it has also been used as a springboard to spew hatred and bitterness.

“When elected officials use social media to talk harshly about others, it is hard for kids to rise above that,” noted Young. “In effect, it’s saying to them this is the accepted norm. Bullying is a byproduct of this collective loss of decorum, and it’s unfortunate that no one puts the brakes on and says, ‘this is not how we react.’”

Understanding the positives and negatives of social media is an important discussion for every family. The medium has many positives, but it can also be hurtful when used improperly. Open communications are vital, and parents who choose to not properly supervise their child may never know the online life that he or she is leading.



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