Wellness Wednesday: Talking to kids about cyberbullying

Even if your kid isn't targeted at school, any child can become the victim of cyberbullying.

There was a time when bullying was something we all had to endure in school, on the bus, and hanging out with friends.

But now, many of our children are dealing with something even worse. Research links cyberbullying to depression in teens and even death in some cases. KVUE's Dr. Nicole Cross got a closer look at the issue by speaking directly to students about it.

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Even if your kid isn’t targeted at school, any child can become the victim of cyberbullying.

Dr. Cross interviewed Small Middle School students who are part of the Peer Assistance and Leadership program where they encourage other students to make informed, responsible and constructive decisions. Each of the students has had first-hand experience with cyberbullying.

"The worst cyberbullying I've seen was there was a group chat and there was a bunch of boys and there was this one girl. All of the boys exposed her nudes and it was right in the group chat. Everyone was laughing at her and I really didn't think it was funny,” Bushara said.

The students said the most damaging effect is feeling exposed and like you don’t measure up.

Sarah added, "You start realizing more and more that you don't look like everyone else, and people are going to constantly point that out to you... You realize I'm not perfect."

Dr. Cross asked, "Is there this understanding that because someone is pointing something out that you have to change, or is that just pressure?"

"It feels like more pressure because if more than one person starts pointing it out, you start realizing it, too,” Sarah responded.

According to the latest statistics compiled by StopBullying.gov, nine percent of students in grades six to 12 have experienced cyberbullying, and 15 percent of high school students experienced cyberbullying.

Dr. Jennifer Jacobson is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Dell Children’s. She said some teens are taking desperate measures to escape cyberbullying.

"The effects of cyberbullying can look like depression, and we've even seen several children in adolescence attempt suicide because of the cyberbullying that they're enduring,” Dr. Johnson stated.

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Dr. Johnson said parents need to have a direct and honest conversation with their kids about cyberbullying.

“Come at it from a place of support and not being judgmental and reminding them that this is not their fault,” she added.

Dr. Cross recommended parents not be too direct or the teens say your child may shut down and not want to say anything. Instead, she advised parents to listen to them and do their best to make them feel supported and safe, and together, come up with a plan of action.

Vanessa said teens should “screenshot the cyberbullying incident and tell their friends about it and an adult that they trust."

Bushara added that teens should “ignore [cyberbullying] unless it gets bigger and bigger because usually what teens do is they fight back, and then it becomes a huge incident."

If the situation does intensify, Dr. Johnson advises students to “block the person on social media; gather evidence including dates, times, and descriptions of the cyberbullying event; and use those to submit to the social media site.”