If you’ve ever handed a smartphone or tablet to a toddler who just wouldn’t quiet down or found yourself trying to regulate the amount of time your children spend online, you know that the digital lives of children are in equal measure a profound source of promise and peril.
While questions about screen time are a perennial favorite topic when it comes to children, and in no way trivial, there are some much darker issues that merit discussion, but seldom make it through the din that makes the digital world such a treacherous place for young people.
For digital non-natives who remember “wedgies,” name-calling and the guerilla warfare of school hallways, online bullying may seem like the positive evolution of an age-old problem.
The Internet is a great way to connect, which isn’t always an optimal situation when you consider that children can be truly horrible to each other. To compound this unfortunate truth, the invisible environs of the online world provide bullies with an ideal place to unleash their worst tendencies with parents and guardians none the wiser. Cyberbullies are just as bad or worse than their analog predecessors.
Unlike the brick-and-mortar version, online bullying is a 24-7 problem. Children with access to internet-connected devices can send and receive abusive texts, messages, and IMs any time of day.
Studies conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau for Justice suggest that roughly 15 percent of high school-aged children have experienced cyberbullying in some form, with many victims reporting depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation.
What you can do about it: Talk to your children about bullying. Create a safe space for discussions about what might be going on behind the digital door of their devices. And don’t assume your child is the bully or the bullied. He or she might be neither or both. Sunlight is the best disinfectant for the digital contagion of cyberbullying.