We all know that bullying (of any kind) can have a significant short-term effect on the mental health of a child… but it’s increasingly clear that cyberbullying can also have significant long-term consequences on a child if it’s not addressed in a timely manner. Here’s what could happen if you don’t deal with the problem.
Cyberbullying and its effect on mental health
● Anxiety Disorders: Children who are subjected to cyberbullying often become anxious and worried as adults, especially when they have the opportunity to go somewhere whose protections and safeguards they don’t understand.
The real problem here is the way that cyberbullying removes a sense of safety – prior to the bullying attempt, the child probably saw their phone as a fun, safe device. Afterwards, though? They know that bullies can reach them through it, and they’re usually quite keen on avoiding a repeat of that incident.
● Antisocial Personality Disorder: Here’s one you might not have expected – bullying is also a common cause of antisocial personality disorder… among the children doing the bullying. A study by Finnish researchers found that rather than simply gaining in social status, many bullies became so aggressive that they soon lost the ability to properly relate to other people.
Cyberbullies are particularly vulnerable to this – it’s easy to attack people over and over, while the lack of immediate consequences stops them from forming an emotional block over their behavior. Cyberbullying becomes a tool they can use, and the more they use it, the easier it becomes.
● Recurring Negativity: Once something is put up online and spreads across the web, social permanence means it’s almost impossible to get rid of it – teens in schools could spread the same picture of a (former) student for years after that student graduated, and every time they do, more people have an opportunity to spread it.
Imagine struggling with depression and managing to overcome it, only for a social network to send you a copy of a horrible old image because it ‘mentioned you’. Now picture this happening five or ten times in a row – this recurring negativity plays into the anxiety and can make people feel like they’ll never escape the problem, even as adults.
● Job Prospects: Children who suffer from cyberbullying typically lose out academically as well – especially if they’re regularly bullied while trying to study. This can have a cascading effect on the rest of their life – lower grades make it harder to get into college, and may result in entirely dropping out of school at some point. Even if they don’t drop out, chances are their social skills will be significantly below their age level.
When that happens, it will be harder to find and keep a job. Worse, the structure of most businesses rewards bold, active employees – exactly the opposite of how bullied people tend to behave. The ultimate result of this is ending up poorer and more depressed than they might have if they’d been able to avoid that bullying.
What we can take away from all of this is that bullying is not a short-term problem. There are real consequences that can have a significant impact on a child’s long-term mental health, and the problem isn’t resolved as soon as the bully is no longer able to reach their target.
The emotions of being bullied will persist – and it can take years for a child to completely recover and be able to perform at their best again. Given all of these problems, parents can be excused for wondering how they’ll find out when their child is being cyberbullied. Fortunately, new technologies like phone monitoring software allow parents to check in on their children and make sure they’re not being bullied. If they are, parents know when to intervene – and that one decision can make a significant improvement in a child’s life.
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety.