Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs via electronic means, including social media, email, instant messaging and text messaging. In the 21st century where children get cellphones at an early age, they are more vulnerable to cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is intentional harm of a person (young and old) using technology, often over an extended period. Cyberbullies inflict pain on their victims through digital technology without physically hurting them.

Where does it happen?

Cyberbullying occurs online. The most common form of cyberbullying is through social media and texting, but it can also occur via email, instant messaging, and text messages. Cyberbullying is considered a form of bullying because it involves the use of technology to harass or embarrass another person. Some people believe that cyberbullying does not cause physical harm to the victim. However, research has shown that there are serious consequences for those who experience bullying online.

How does it happen?

  • Online harassment: This type of bullying can be an ongoing campaign of nasty comments, emails and texts sent to someone over an extended period. The victim may receive several and some cases hundreds of harassing messages from different people who may be unknown to the victim.
  • Phone calls: This type of bullying involves repeated phone calls where the victim is being threatened with violence or death if they do not comply with demands made by the perpetrator.
  • Text message harassment: This type of cyberbullying involves sending text messages directly to someone’s cell phone intended to cause emotional pain.

How does it affect a child?

Any type of bullying can have physical and psychological effects on a child. Anxiety, fear, depression, low self-esteem, behavioral issues, and academic struggles are a few challenges kids may experience if they are targets. While cyberbullying can happen in a public digital space like a social media post, it can also take the form of private messages – wherein kids having keep it a secret, and have to deal with it alone. Being aware of the effects of cyberbullying cannot only help you support a bullied child, but you also need to be aware of the signs..

Emotional effects of cyberbullying may include: distress, embarrassed, hurt, and even fear for their safety. Since cyberbullying occurs online, it feels permanent. Kids know that once something is posted online, it will always be there. They can feel exposed, embarrassed, and overwhelmed by the emotions that come with it. When cyberbullying occurs, the nasty posts, messages, or texts can be shared with thousands of people. The sheer volume of people that know about the bullying can lead to intense feelings of humiliation. Cyberbullying sometimes cause kids to be excluded and hated at school. Consequently, they often feel alone and isolated. This experience can be particularly painful because friends are crucial at this age.

Effects of cyberbullying

Mental effects of cyberbullying include victims relating to the world around them differently than others – often in a very negative way. To the child, life can feel hopeless and meaningless. They may lose interest in things they once enjoyed and spend less time interacting with family and friends. In some cases, depression and thoughts of suicide can set in. Cyberbullying also can erode self-confidence and feelings of self-worth, which can contribute to depression and anxiety.

Their academic life can be greatly affected. As a result, they may have much higher rates of absenteeism than non-bullied kids. They may skip school to avoid facing the kids cyberbullying them or to escape the embarrassment and humiliation by the messages that were shared online. Their grades may also suffer because they find it difficult to concentrate or study. There are cases where kids may either drop out of school or lose interest in continuing their education after high school.

Behavioral effects of cyberbullying may include display the same behavioral changes as those who are bullied in more traditional ways. For example, they exhibit a loss of interest in activities and engage in secretive behavior. In extreme cases, usually when cyberbullying is prolonged, kids can even exhibit drastic behavioral changes such as using drugs or alcohol and carrying weapons to school. Being targeted by cyberbullies can be crushing, especially if a lot of kids are participating in it. Some effects may be observed physically and these include gastrointestinal issues, eating disorder and sleeplessness.

Let’s end cyberbullying

Never wait until it is too late; be cybersmart. The first step is to seek help from someone that can be trusted such parents, a close family member or another trusted adult. At school, children can reach out to the sports coach or their favorite teacher – either online or in person. Being online has so many benefits. However, like many things in life, it comes with risks that children need to be protect against. If the bullying is happening on a social platform, the bully must be blocked and formally reported the police.

Be cybersmart, be proactive, be reactive; prevent and report cyberbullying incidents and help us keep Eswatini safe and secure.