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Could cyberbullying be the cause of depression in your teen?

July 27, 2015

Nearly everyone is familiar these days with the terms "cyberbullying" or "online bullying". This is a form of bullying where someone is harassed, threatened, or humiliated through the internet, usually through various social media networks. It is becoming increasingly common; statistics say about 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once. These figures sound about right to me. At Teen Xpress, I have several students every week tell me that they are dealing with some sort of online bullying.

Cyberbullying can lead to depression in teens

Being intimidated, verbally abused, or harassed online can wreak havoc on a young person’s psyche, causing a multitude of issues, especially depression. When looking specifically at depression, it’s hard to know the exact numbers or relationship between the two because bullying is usually underreported (with an average of only 1 out of 10 young people telling an adult).

However, it’s easy to understand why there is a connection. Young people (as well as not-so-young people) love their technology. Being a part of that technology and joining social media networks seems fun and is, in theory, a great way to connect to others. However, participation in social media increases the likelihood of having negative experiences, too. In years past, victims of bullying could find some sort of safe haven- maybe their home, their neighborhood, a place they could go where no one bothered them. These days, there is no escaping online bullying. We have access to our social networks and mobile devices nearly everywhere we go. The only way to escape is to turn off the technology, and that is much easier said than done, especially with your typical teen! This constant barrage of harassment can be scary, exhausting, and heart-breaking. Experiencing feelings like that over and over can bring on symptoms of depression.

Teens rely most heavily on their parents and peers for advice about online behaviors and coping with challenging experiences, so it’s up to us to know what to look for and how to help them.

What are some signs of adolescent depression?

A depressed teen may appear sad, irritable, or angry. They also may appear to be uninterested in things that they normally like to do. They may withdraw or isolate themselves. There may have sleep or appetite issues. They may engage in risky or dangerous behaviors, like substance use or self-harm. Some of these behaviors are not unusual for a non-depressed teen as well, so if they are acting like this it is important to consider how long this has been going on. If someone is showing these signs of depression nearly all day, every day for two weeks or more, they may be suffering from depression. At that point, parents should consider a visit with a mental health professional or doctor to make sure everything is alright.

How can I protect my child from being bullied online?

Be in the know! It is important for parents to learn about the social media sites that their child and their child’s friends are using. Students often tell me about sites that I’ve never heard of. That’s because these sites aren’t marketed to adults- they are specifically targeting young people.

Communicate. Encourage them to tell you if it happens to them. Tell them you want to know because you love them and want to be there for them.

Listen. Parents should take these issues seriously. Teens often get a bad reputation for being emotional or dramatic, especially when it comes to how upset they can get when they have issues with friends. It’s hard for us parents because sometimes it may feel like it’s not that big of a deal. However, adolescents are hard-wired to be this way. They are going through the developmental stage of separating themselves from their parents and becoming more aligned with friends and peers. When your friends are more important to you than anyone else in the world, and then they begin to bully or mistreat you, this can be truly heartbreaking.

Help them. If your child experiences something like this, be there for them, empathize, and help them use good coping skills to get through it. Help them learn that only they define their own self-worth and that they are not alone. Always seek out counseling if needed. Telling them to get over it or that it’s not a big deal is not helpful.

Would it help to just take away the phone/ tablet/ laptop/computer?

No. Most teens love their technology, so taking it away will likely feel like a punishment. Also, their friends will still have access, so they will probably hear about anything they may have missed. It’s helpful to remember: technology isn’t the problem; the way people treat each other is the problem.

Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that can connect people. It can be used for good intentions, and can empower, educate, and strengthen our youth. When social media is used to threaten, humiliate, and hurt people, the results can be heart breaking and disastrous.

It is helpful to teach our kids how to deal with people that bully. Even more helpful is teaching them how to treat others with respect and kindness, supporting them, and encouraging them to stand up for themselves and others.