As Cyberbullying Climbs, Teens Struggle With Sleep and Depression
by Sue Scheff
July 18, 2019

For teens, online bullying worsens sleep and depression according to a 2019 study.

As long as there are smartphones and digital devices, sadly we will probably always be dealing with online hate and harassment. The fact is, this is human behavior it's not something that we can raise money for, find a cure and finally eradicate, like we are about to witness with polio.

New research is showing a rise in cyberbullying and this is causing emotional and physical concerns for young people. Nearly one third of teens have experienced symptoms of depression, which, in addition to changes in sleep pattern, include persistent irritability, anger and social withdrawal, according to the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health.

In a recent University of Buffalo study, nearly 15 percent of US high school students report being bullied electronically. At severe levels, depression may lead to disrupted school performance, harmed relationships or suicide.

Misol Kwon, the first author of this recent research said:

"Cyber victimization on the internet and social media is a unique form of peer victimization and emerging mental health concern among teens who are digital natives." said Kwon. "Understanding these associations supports the need to provide sleep hygiene education and risk prevention and interventions to mistreated kids who show signs and symptoms of depression."

How would you know if your child is being harassed online? Here are a few signs parent's need to be aware of:

  • He/she suddenly stops using the computer or phone, even though he's always enjoyed it before.
  • He/she doesn't want to use the computer/phone in a place where you can see it.
  • He/she turns off the computer monitor or changes screens every time you walk by.
  • He/she seems nervous or jumpy when he gets an instant message, text or email.
  • He/she alludes to bullying indirectly by saying something like "there's a lot of drama at school" or "I have no friends."
  • He/she doesn't want to go to school or appears uneasy about going.
  • He/she becomes withdrawn.
  • He/she changes eating habits.

It helps to understand why some tweens and teens don't tell parents when bad things happen:

1. Fear of consequences:
Your child's online existence is a critical part of their social life. With all their friends online, being excluded would be devastating them. They don't want to risk you banning them from their friends and their digital lives.

2. Humiliation and embarrassment: Our kids are human and have feelings. Although some kids portray a tough persona and believe they are invincible, deep down everyone feels hurt by cruel keystrokes. Your child may fear looking stupid or weak.

3. Fear of making it worse: We have taught our children well so they understand that bullies are looking for attention. By reporting the incident of cyberbullying to a parent, your child may fear it could anger the bully and make matters worse for them online. In some cases bullies will enlist more online trolls to cyber-mob your child. Of course the child's dreaded fear is his or her parent reporting it to their school or camp and more people knowing whereby they become a possible target in the future.

Developing digital resilience
Today our kids consider their digital life as important as their lives offline, so it's important to give them as much knowledge and encouragement to know they are not alone when they are faced with cyber-hate.

  1. Prepare them for the ugly side of the Internet or possibly being upset by what people say. Remind them it could be inappropriate content that slips through filters. Being forewarned is being forearmed.
  2. Show them how to block individuals, flag and report abusive content, and when to report incidents. Emphasize the importance of telling someone "in real life."
  3. Show your teen how easily digital pictures can be manipulated. The realization that not everything is what it seems is a useful first step understanding that life is not as perfect as it may seem virtually. Teens may be familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating 'fake' images.
  4. Help them to think through the possible consequences of what they post online. Remind them that there is no rewind online, once it's posted it's nearly impossible to take back. Fifteen minutes of humor is not worth a lifetime of humiliation.
  5. Encourage your teen to socialize in person with their friends. Communicating solely behind a screen can be isolating. Socializing in person builds more face-to-face contact in helping your child have empathy and compassion towards people.

Never doubt, your kids might be an app ahead of you, but they will always need your offline parenting wisdom.