Alright parents, you probably know what bullying is, but do you know what cyberbullying is?

Despite popular belief, cyberbullying is much more complex and harmful than “just a couple mean comments online.” Cyberbullying is an intimidating, harassing, and/or hurtful online action to another person that takes place through electronic technology such as cell phones, computers, tablets, etc. as well as communication tools such as text/instant messaging, social media, email, etc.

Cyberbullying is almost always paired with bullying in real life. It is similar with real-life bullying in that it includes threats (of violence, death, etc.), insults (offensive and inappropriate), and shaming by spreading rumors or private information about the victim. The difference is that the victim can never really escape from cyberbullying because it pops up everywhere on social media, whether on phones, computers, or in school.

“Just turn off your phone and ignore it! Don’t be a wuss!”
You may have heard this kind of “solution” to cyberbullying before. However, such comments fail to understand the reality of the world we live in today. Our world has become almost irrevocably drenched in digital technology and social platforms. The cell phone, which has tremendously from the pagers and slide phones of back in the day, is now a powerful computer designed to fit into the palm of your hand. Professional work, school homework as well as socializing for both adults and children have moved from real-life interactions to online, digital ones. Though logically “turning off your phone” may be a solution that makes sense, in context, it is nearly impossible to not use any form of digital media today. Additionally, because as mentioned above, cyberbullying is almost always paired with real-life bullying, the bullying that happens online and on social media platforms is only one way people bully others.

Furthermore, when bullied in real life, the victim can identify their bullies, but cyberbullies often hide behind multiple anonymous and/or fake profiles. This leads the victim to feeling confused, more distrustful and doubtful, and increasingly overwhelmed. Cyberbullies also tend to be much more harsh and and cruel online because they feel more confident hiding behind a screen or fake profile.

So what happens because of cyberbullying? Is it really that bad?

There are numerous risks associated with being cyberbullied, and many are quite similar to the effects of real life bullying.

First, is a drastic loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.

The ole “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” doesn’t quite ring true. Words can really hurt. That, of course, doesn’t mean you or your child isn’t a confident person with a high self-esteem. That also doesn’t mean that you haven’t tried ignoring the toxic posts, messages, and posts.
At a young and vulnerable age, cyberbullying (which is most often paired with regular bullying) can cause children and teens (and even adults!) to feel unsure, anxious, frustrated, and overwhelmed. Children may start believing what other people are saying about them online, begin skipping school (either out of depression or as a way to avoid the bullies in real life), develop low self-esteem or start using drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate. If this is allowed to continue, it can lead to severe depression, and at the most extreme end of cyberbullying-related depression is suicide. According to the National Suicide Hotline, 20% of kids cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempt it.

Recognize the signs in your child:
Saying or expressing that they feel unwanted and unloved.
Suddenly unable to tolerate everyday frustrations
Pretending to be emotionally indifferent and distant to family and friends.

Secondly, your child may develop a negative body image and eating disorders.

A research study done with 1000 girls between 12-16 years old found that 40% of them believed that they were not good enough (The NetGirls Project). Almost all of us have wanted that “perfect body” at some point in our lives. I’ve realized being healthy is more important than being picture-perfect (most, if not all, of those models are Photoshopped anyway!). But does your child know this?

You’ve at least heard of it—teenage girls stalking other people’s Instagrams and then dissecting everything in the mirror; teenage boys seeking out the perfect athlete’s body and defined abs. Overexposure through social media can take this to a new level. Worse, cyber bullies use social media to harshly criticize the way people look.

If you notice your teen changing their eating habits and not wanting to talk about it, take action before it affects your child’s health. Here are a few symptoms to watch out for:
Abnormal eating habits (suddenly eating a lot in one meal, skipping multiple meals)
Weighing themselves frequently
Weight change in short amount of time
Unusual interest in exercising and decline in health

Author's Bio: 

KidGuard's sole mission is to protect your children online. Our team spends every waking hour thinking about how to bring awareness and inspire solutions on issues of cyber bullying, online predators, teen suicide, and childhood depression in the age of technology. KidGuard employs a team of researchers and writers to educate parents on solutions to digital parenting problems and also runs a popular child cell phone monitoring software to allow parents to stay involved in their child's life online.