The Menace of Cyberbullying & Its Effects on the Mental Health of Adolescents

Tina came home, walked straight to her room and closed the door. She buried her head in her hands and soon after, the tears began to flow. She reclined in her bed and was soon howling when her mother rushed in, worried about what had happened to her usually cheerful 14-year-old daughter. Tina was crying so hard, she could barely get the words out.
“I had my period today”
Her mother was puzzled. “So?” she asked.
“My skirt was stained and a boy pointed it out to me and then everyone started pointing and laughing,” continued Tina, in between furious sobs.
Her mother smiled. “Sweetie, no one will even remember tomorrow, and who cares about what the others say?” she reassured her.

Tina nodded, though she wasn’t entirely convinced. She then changed and plonked onto her bed in her comfy pyjamas. She logged on to Instagram on her phone and saw that she had many notifications, far more than she even had on her birthday. And then to her horror, Tina saw that her newsfeed was flooded with memes and jokes about periods. Her nightmare of a day had become a virtual reality.

In the age of smartphones and tablets, instagram, twitter, whatsapp, etc. this is but a common example of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is defined as the harassment of an individual via a digital device like a smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc. It occurs over various channels such as social media, chat rooms, gaming platforms, etc.

Cyberbullying has existed since online communication became a normal part of our lives. But it is only in the past 15 years or so that it has truly risen as a very real threat for some of the most vulnerable members of our society, adolescents. This situation is particularly bad in India.

According to a 2018 study of 28 countries conducted by Ipson, India has the highest rate of parents confirming instances of cyberbullying, at 37%. More recently, a study by Child Rights and You (CRY), that was published in March of this year, reported that 1 in every 10 Indian adolescents are victims of cyberbullying.

So what is it that a cyberbully wants? What makes them thrive apart from easier access to technology and the Internet? According to our Experts at YourDOST , the Internet provides a person with anonymity which almost incentivises them by providing them with an added layer of security so that they’re protected from being confronted for expressing their unpopular opinions. They also mention that similar to Kleptomaniacs who steal just for the thrill of it, and enjoy the consequent rush, a lot of online trolls resort to cyberbullying for the thrill of doing it and getting away with it.

The most worrying aspect of cyberbullying is the effect it has on the victim’s mental health. It has a tremendously detrimental effect on their self-esteem. It impacts their behaviour as it makes them more fearful of judgement, and consequently they become more self-conscious about everything from what they say to what they do, and even their body language.

Studies have documented the significant effects that cyberbullying has on a victim’s mental health such as increased risk of depression, anxiety and externalized negative behaviours, as well as an increased risk of suicide. Of these, the links between cyberbullying and depression are the most studied. Not only does cyberbullying increase depression, but depressed children also seem to be bigger targets of cyberbullying. However, what is most disturbing is that most victims suffer in silence because they fear that telling on the perpetrators will get their Internet time taken away. This is confirmed by the CRY study alluded to earlier which found that of all the adolescents who are victims of cyberbullying, only 50% actually report being bullied. Another major reason for this is that most victims aren’t even aware that they are being bullied.

To fight the menace of cyberbullying in an effective manner, the next steps need to be to spread awareness among parents and children about what cyberbullying is and what are the means available to help a victim in cases of cyberbullying. When a case of cyberbullying is reported, it is important the victim is encouraged to seek therapy. 2 kinds of Psychotherapies are particularly effective in helping a victim of cyberbullying recover from its effects:

  • Assertiveness training: Victims of cyberbullying often need help in building their confidence to stand up to their bullies. This type of therapy trains them in the techniques to do so.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Many victims of cyberbullying tend to develop certain safety behaviors in order to deal with resulting depression or anxiety. CBT helps them overcome these as it is effective in retraining the victim so that they may be able to change their behaviours or thoughts for a positive change in their daily life.

YourDOST’s Experts are available 24×7 to provide therapy and emotional support to victims of cyberbullying. If your child has been a victim, refer them to a YourDOST Expert today.

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