Dr. Harris Summer 2018 Reads Suggestions
Finally spring is here and before we know it summer will arrive, something many Chicagoans look forward too. We get to enjoy the city at last, the beaches, festivals, block parties, and music fests. With these events and activities comes the prevalent drink of choice: alcohol. As any Chicagoan is aware of, there is always a preponderance of underage drinking at these events. It almost seems that this is a common practice and accepted by many. Not only is alcohol common in summer celebrations but also drug use as well. What should a parent do? While marijuana becomes more and more accepted in the mainstream, parents are still concerned with the health and safety of their children. How should a parent address this with their children? At what point is there “a problem”?
Perhaps the most important thing to do as a parent is to communicate with your child. Communication, like in any relationship, is fundamental to a healthy partnership. Have you discussed drug use and drinking with your child? Have you been clear on your own views of drinking and drug use? Have you set clear rules for them? Also, importantly, do you feel you have created a space for your child to discuss this with you as well? In discussing drug use with your child I often describe it as a balancing act. On one hand you want to be able to establish clear rules and consequences, on the other you don’t want your child to fear having a conversation about it. Creating a safe place for your child to openly discuss the topic of drugs and alcohol with you is paramount; otherwise your child will find answers elsewhere.
While no one person can perfectly predict substance abuse, as parents there are always things to look for. Declining grades, dramatic shift in peer groups, isolation, and emotional turbulence are a few key factors to note. And of course, while these may be classic “teens being teens” actions, the extreme prevalence of all these factors could be a cause for concern. Substance use in adolescents is detrimental to their health in both physical and psychological ways. The developmental time period for teens is at a critical point in developing into healthy adult. This is why it may be necessary that if you do see these warning signs, to discuss it even further with your child. Along with more open and honest conversation, treatment may be necessary.
Experimentation as a teenager is typically normal, finding new friend groups, venturing into new hobbies, finding new passions; drug use does not have to be one of them. Teens will always be curious about the unknown and the prohibited, it is their nature. However it does not have to necessarily venture in to illegal use. Therefore, communication and discussion is so necessary. This summer while your kids are outside living their lives make sure to talk with them about drugs and alcohol. Don’t be afraid to openly bring up this topic. Make your rules clear, but also be open to hearing the questions and accept their most likely push back on the subject. Remember there are resources available nearly everywhere online, and if you really are concerned, feel free to give your local treatment provider a call, just make sure they are trained in addiction treatment.
That time of year is almost here again: summertime! Yippee! Time for fun in the sun, lemonade stands, waterparks, and barbecues. What a great few months, right? Or, it should be, anyway. Summertime can be when we relax and enjoy the beautiful weather, but it sometimes ends up causing us more stress than we bargain for. Like getting the family packed up for an outing, and keeping the kids occupied since they’re no longer in school. How do we keep summer from being a bummer? How can we make this pleasant time of year less stressful?
When the heat gets to be too much and your AC has turned your home into a meat locker, take the time to go outside and sit in the shade. The fresh air and natural sunlight will be refreshing and pleasant once you’ve had a chance to cool off inside. Take a book with you, or just lie on the grass and look up at the clouds, trees, flowers, etc. It’s amazing the little things in life we forget about, like the beauty of a budding blossom, which can remind us not to take ourselves too seriously. Take a quick moment to close your eyes, and imagine yourself lying on a beach and enjoying an ocean view. This quick mental vacation will help you relax and refocus.
When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade!
The stress of trying to find different activities to keep the kids entertained can not only be exhausting, but costly. Why not check your local town or city’s events and summer festivals? Your neighborhood park district and town always has something going on, but their marketing budgets may not be big enough to make you aware of the great free events all summer long. Check out the local paper, town website, park district and library bulletins to see free activities in your area. Here are a few links to get you started:
Fun & Free Chicago Summer Activities – https://www.choosechicago.com/things-to-do/parks-and-outdoors/free-summer-park-activities/
Chicago Park District Movie Night – http://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/events/movies/
Chicago Summer Dance – https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance.html/
Water You Doing?
Who doesn’t want to go to the pool or the beach? Sometimes, the pool fees, and gas it takes to get to your closest body of water can be draining. The good ol’ water hose in your back yard can also feel relaxing, and break up the burden of carrying a heavy beach bag and putting more miles on your car. Jumping through the sprinkler a few times can give kids the giggles, ease your wallet, and lessen your stress.
Whatever you do this summer, don’t let the humdrum of summer shenanigans keep you from enjoying this beautiful time of year. Summer is for sunshine and sojourning, so remember to take a break, and stop and smell the roses.
For some, entertainment is an escape from our daily lives, but for many others entertainment is a sensationalized account of real issues we may face. “13 Reasons Why” originally published as a young adult novel, was subsequently adapted into a series by Netflix. The series chronicles the life and subsequent suicide of teenager Hannah Baker. In the series, Hannah posthumously provides 13 cassette tapes to fellow teenagers she has come in contact with, detailing the trauma she and others endured in the weeks prior to her death.
The dark turn of the show may make it difficult for some viewers to watch, covering topics such as drug abuse, sexual assault, bullying, and suicide. While the show is effective in pulling the viewer in, it does little to prepare the viewer for what’s to come, which begs the question: when is it appropriate to address the topics of sexual abuse and suicide?
To answer this question, it is first essential that parents and educators become familiar with the content described in this series, thus providing a basis for future conversations. What “13 Reasons Why” has accomplished is opening the dialogue surrounding assault and suicide between adults and teenagers. For many, the unimaginable trauma of suicide and sexual assault, which is vividly played out on the screen for viewers to watch, is a subject that is not easily broached, however, it allows adults to empathetically gaze at the issues many teenagers face.
As parents and professionals, it is important that the conversations surrounding sexual assault and suicide be had, no matter how difficult they may be. Discussing the depictions and representations of each character may alleviate some of the concerns parents may experience, as well as allow parents the opportunity to correct some of the inaccuracies presented in the series. As teenagers who may view the series, it is imperative that it be known that there will be someone who takes these issues seriously and is willing to address them. For each of us, the series can shine a light on the importance of being intentional in how we interact with each other and how we respond to those hurting or in need of support.
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide please call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline, a 24-hour free and confidential service, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
To speak with someone regarding the issue of sexual assault please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline, available 24 hours a day, at 1-800-656-4673.
Additionally, if you or someone you know is affected by the topics discussed in the series, please feel free to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists here at Cornerstone by calling our Intake Department at 312-573-8860.
’13 Reasons Why’ has sparked a buzz in popular culture since its full release on March 31st. I must admit, this Netflix Original’s constant praise on social media sparked an intrigue. I wanted to know more. So I did. I began by reading the description and was immediately taken aback. As a mental health professional, I thought, “this is downright disturbing and dangerous.” The content and the buzz. And while it is important to raise awareness of the agony that can lead to suicide, and the physical pain of self-harm, it is equally as important to do so in a responsible way. Romanticizing suicide in ’13 Reasons Why’ is irresponsible, and here are 3 reasons why:
There is no single cause for suicide. The series follows the fictional story of the suicide of a teenager, Hannah Baker, through cassette tapes through which Hannah blames specific people for her suicide. This is the first danger. Assigning blame to others is a projection of misplaced feelings of guilt. It is also inaccurate. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) indicates that “Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.” Therefore, instead of teaching our culture to assign blame for high-risk behavior, our responsibility is to teach healthy coping skills as a preventative factor of suicide.
Exposure Increases Risk. The season finale includes a scene that graphically depicts the violent suicide of Hannah Baker. It is important to note that the target audience for ’13 Reasons Why’, unsurprisingly, is the teenage and young adult population. This is also the population for which suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death (ages 15-24). More importantly, “exposure to another person’s suicide, or to graphic or sensationalized accounts of suicide, increases risk of suicide. (AFSP)” Therefore, graphically depicting suicide to the population of highest incidence is dangerous, specifically for the at-risk youth, vulnerable to suicide.
Who can I talk to? The season finale also includes a scene where Hannah Baker decides to talk to her school counselor. As a mental health professional, this scene is troubling. The school counselor acknowledges one of the signs of suicide yet does not take action for follow-up (i.e. risk assessment). The counselor also makes assumptions about the student’s social behavior which does not foster a safe space for disclosure. To model a counselor as one that does not take appropriate action, and does not foster a safe space, leaves the audience with the message that no one can be trusted. This is a serious danger because it eliminates yet another preventative measure (i.e. talking to a trusted adult). Eliminating preventative factors for at-risk individuals can increase the risk of suicide.
While I do commend the producers of ’13 Reasons Why’ for taking the challenge of presenting an engaging and relatable series on a serious and under-discussed concern in the United States, there was a grave missed opportunity for preventive messaging. Therefore, it is important to note that help is available and individuals who actively manage their mental health conditions lead fulfilling lives.
If you or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, go to the nearest emergency room and/or please call, The National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Below are additional resources to learn more:
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Risk Factors and Warning Signs
A Teachable Moment: Webinar from AFSP, ASCA, and NASP
Teachable Moment Using “13 Reasons Why” to Initiate a Helpful Conversation About Suicide Prevention and Mental Health
When in graduate school for a degree in psychology or counseling, one learns a lot and reads a ton. But the most important thing grad students in my field do is practice what they preach.
So, when I was in a masters program in grad school, I took a psychological assessment overview course and the final assignment was to take a whole handful of tests that assessed my personality and then score, interpret, and report the results of these tests.
It was quite a process because some of these tests have a lot of questions to answer about yourself. I was nervous because I didn’t know exactly what the results would say about me.
Despite the process, the end result was pretty cool. The results confirmed some things I pretty clearly knew about myself. The results told me things about myself that somewhere, deep within myself, I knew, but didn’t have words to describe. The results told me things about myself that I was surprised by, that I never would have said about myself. The results told me things that I didn’t want to be said about me. The results helped me understand myself better so that I could take bold, but scary steps into a future that I didn’t even know was possible.
These understandings, realizations, and awarenesses are what psychological assessment is all about. Sure, sometimes the purpose of an assessment is to determine whether a diagnosis is present or not – think about all the assessments that happen when a medical doctor is trying to determine whether someone has cancer or a chronic illness. But underneath it all, the true purpose is to understand a person better, whether that be physically as in the case of a medical doctor or emotionally as in the case of a psychologist.
At the end of a psychological assessment, a psychologist expects that the client will understand more about him/herself and have some ideas about what his/her next steps could be to address the good and the I-wish-it-was-better results that come from the assessment. This may or may not include a diagnosis but will definitely include information about how the client thinks, feels, copes, and engages in the world around him/her.
If you have questions about yourself or your child and/or desire to have clarity about what might be going on inside of your heart, mind, or soul, please contact us at email@example.com or (312) 573-8860 to discuss these things and determine if a psychological assessment might be beneficial for you. You can also find out more about our psychological assessment services here.
In this style of parenting, children are expected to follow the strict rules established by the parents. Failure to follow such rules usually results in punishment. Authoritarian parents fail to explain the reasoning behind these rules. If asked to explain, the parent might simply reply, “Because I said so.”
Like authoritarian parents, those with an authoritative parenting style establish rules and guidelines that their children are expected to follow. However, this parenting style is much more democratic. Authoritative parents are responsive to their children and willing to listen to questions. When children fail to meet the expectations, these parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Baumrind suggests that these parents “monitor and impart clear standards for their children’s conduct. They are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive. They want their children to be assertive as well as socially responsible, and self-regulated as well as cooperative.”
Permissive parents, sometimes referred to as indulgent parents, have very few demands to make of their children. These parents rarely discipline their children because they have relatively low expectations of maturity and self-control. According to Baumrind, permissive parents “are more responsive than they are demanding. They are usually nontraditional and lenient. Permissive parents are generally nurturing and communicative with their children. This style of parenting should be careful not to take on the status of a friend more than a parent.
An uninvolved parenting style if characterized by few demands, low responsiveness and little communication. While these parents fulfill the child’s basic needs, they are generally detached from their child’s life. In extreme cases, these parents may even reject or neglect the needs of their children.
The Impact of Parenting Styles
What effect do these parenting styles have on child development outcomes?
Baumrind, D. (1989). Rearing competent children. In W. Damon (Ed.), Child development today and tomorrow (pp. 349-378). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Baumrind, D. (1991). The influence of parenting style on adolescent competence and substance use. Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56-95.
In order to maintain health, the most commonly recommended actions are diet and exercise. It is widely known that choosing quality, whole foods over empty calorie, junk foods provide better nutritional intake to support a healthy body. Unfortunately, the American population is “the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in US history” (Brown, 2010, pg. 36). When considering how technology is revolutionizing our world, is it possible, that we have entered an age where we are now, also, socially obese? In other words, are we attempting to satisfy our need for love and belonging with frequent binge episodes of empty activity on social media platforms?
As a Millennial parent of a young child who is intrigued by texting, FaceTiming, and online games, I do my best to limit the use of technology, or at least ensure it is a positive and educational experience. It seems I get to observe her need to belong in this world by her desire for her own phone or app watch because others have them around her. I’m also aware of the glories of life without technology. This compelled me to find the best research on the topic of how technology is changing us.
Humanity has the longest period of childrearing of any species, and therefore, is wired to be social. Attachment theory would argue we feel more secure and confident in whom we are when attached to an attentive caregiver (Bowlby, 1969). Therefore, the technological development of social media to satisfy our need for connection is not unusual. Research has highlighted the positives of social media use. But, what are the bounds of healthy use? Is social media use like binging on junk food and is there a healthier replacement?
There are factors that make social media an easy go-to for social interaction and even addiction. For example, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, who is an expert on user experience in computer systems, outlines how social networking may activate the brain’s reward system on her blog (November 7, 2009). She identified the following factors:
Based on her research, it appears our brain jumps into an endless dopamine high when engaging social media. Berridge (1998) argues that dopamine is central to seeking pleasure and the opioid system causes us to experience pleasure. Therefore, it makes sense to me that when we browse, post, and game, hours fly by without notice due to the activation of both of these systems.
Unhealthy Social Media Use
There are several studies that clarify at what points social media use loses its benefit. Initially, it is well established that the hormone oxytocin is a bonding hormone, released during delivery of a newborn baby, and at moments of physical or social contact. When a study challenged teens with a stressful task and examined different avenues of receiving emotional support from their parents, oxytocin was implicated. The teens who did not reach out to their parents and those who texted their parents had no noticeable difference in their cortisol or oxytocin levels. The teens who sought support over the phone or face to face, had increased oxytocin and decreased cortisol levels (Seltzer, Prososki, Ziegler, & Pollak, as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 130). Therefore, hearing someone’s voice or seeing a person face-to-face was more effective in comforting. It appears that the convenience of technology did not benefit the teens in effectively decreasing stress and increasing bonding.
Moreover, excessive social media use is a concern due to the restricted form of communication that may lack tone of voice, body language, and other avenues of feeling emotionally connected. Those who spend excessive time on screens have more difficulty interpreting facial expressions (Engelberg & Sjöberg as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 135). Greenfield’s concern is that technology may encourage autistic-like traits, such as poor eye contact and poor reading of social cues, in an online user (McDowell; Waldman, Nicholson, & Adilov; Hertz-Picciotto & Delwiche; as cited in Greenfield, 2015, p. 136). Other researchers are attempting to clarify any relationship between internet use and lowering levels of empathy. Therefore, excessive use can be a barrier to developing social skills needed to facilitate bonding and attachment in the real world.
Another concern is that social media is replacing real life relationship maintenance. It appears that those who have social anxiety and believe it to be a better platform for self-disclosure are more likely to use social media to build relationships (Oldmeadow, Quinn, & Kowert; Trepte & Reinecke; as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pgs. 102 & 104). The amount of time spent on social media was not linked to having a larger offline network or feeling emotionally closer to offline network (Pollet, Roberts, & Dunbar, 2011 as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pgs. 133). It seems the excessive use of social media may be an act to avoid social anxiety than a tool to overcome it.
Additionally, the use of social media may not benefit self-image. Those with low self-esteem have more frequent posts about negative attributes which seems to lead others to “like” their comments less or reject the online identity altogether (Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 120). Whereas, in real life, friends may have been able to see their other attributes and consider their negativity more tolerable. Given limited immediate feedback, social media also allows for narcissism to manifest which is linked to low self-esteem (Buffardi & Campbell as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 117). Therefore, those with low self-esteem who rely on social media for connection may create a cycle of rejection and self-inefficacy in online relationships they rely on for intimacy.
Lastly, we advertise our best or “ideal self” on social media or develop a new identity altogether (Zhao, Grasmuck, & Martin as cited in Greenfield, 2015, pg. 117). For that reason, virtual reality continues to reflect less of actual reality. Consequently, we are exposed to the edited or imaginary version of a real person. Besides the scary implications of false identities online, social media provides us with an overwhelming number of personas to compare to ourselves. Therefore, perhaps the implications of our increased reliance on social media to meet our social and emotional needs is more complex than we think and possibly as nutritious as a junk food binge.
It is a relief to know that research has also identified the benefits of social media. Greenfield (2015) concluded from several studies, that it can be a beneficial avenue for maintaining relationships that were established offline. In order to be resilient from some of the drawbacks of social media use, I recommend that we:
It is my hope that, similar to other health-conscious trends such as yoga and organic eating, Americans would trend healthy Internet and social media use.
Berridge, K. C. & Robinson, T. E. (1998). What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward learning, or incentive salience? Brain Research Reviews, 28, pp 309–369.
Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment. Attachment and loss: Vol. 1. Loss. New York: Basic Books.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.
Weinschenk, S. (November 7, 2009). 100 things you should know about people: #8 Dopamine makes us addicted to seeking information. Retrieved from https://www.blog.theteamw.com/2009/11/07/100-things-you-should-know-about-people-8-dopamine-makes-us-addicted-to-seeking-information/
Understanding the misbehavior of children can be quite challenging at times, as their misconduct can present as a mystery to not only their parents, but the reasoning behind their misconduct is often unknown to the children themselves. Evidence of this can be seen when children say, “I don’t know” in response to their parents who ask them, “Why did you do that?” I want to help you answer this very question by explaining the hidden messages that often lie beneath your child’s misconduct, and lend you a few suggestions as to what to do when certain misbehavior occurs.
All people, including children, are driven by a desire to belong and feel significant within their relationships, especially within their family relationships (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1990; Nelson, 2006). As a result, children often misbehave because they want to feel important or belong, but they’re unaware that they’re doing this. Misbehavior occurs when children develop mistaken beliefs or incorrect ideas about how they can feel important or belong, and it’s often at the expense of other people’s feelings (Dreikurs & Soltz, 1990; Nelson, 2006). Most misbehavior falls into one of four categories known as the Mistaken Goals of Misbehavior, and they include the following: 1) Undue Attention; 2) Misguided Power; 3) Revenge, and 4) Assumed Inadequacy (Nelson, 2006).
The Mistaken Goal of Undue Attention suggests that some children unconsciously believe that they’re not significant or that they don’t belong unless they keep adults busy with them (Nelson, 2006). An example of this is when your child annoys or irritates you by making constant noise after you have told him or her to stop numerous times. Truthfully, the hidden message beneath your son or daughter’s behavior is that “I want you to notice me” or “Involve me usefully.” One of the ways that you can respond to this is by touching them gently and looking at them while nodding your head “no” without saying a word. This practice is known as acting without speaking. Another response is giving your child a task to do so that their need for attention can be satisfied by being acknowledged for completing a task that is of help to you. Additionally, you can plan individual time with your child so that they have something to look forward to, and they can thus receive uninterrupted attention from you (Nelson, 2006).
Next is the Mistaken Goal of Misguided Power, which means that some children hold the mistaken belief that they are not significant or that they don’t belong unless they prove to others that they are the boss and that no one can control them (Nelson, 2006). An example of this is when you may tell your child to put his or her shoes on, and he or she responds with “No” or they take a long time to carry out the task. In situations such as this, you are likely to feel angry or defeated. Often, the coded message behind such behavior is that “I want a choice.” You can direct this need for power in a positive direction by giving your child limited options (i.e. “I need you to put your shoes on. You can wear the red shoes or the blue shoes, which ones do you want to wear?”) (Nelson, 2006).
The third Mistaken Goal is that of Revenge (Nelson, 2006). This goal is likely at play when a child damages a parent’s property or calls a parent a hurtful name. The coded message is that “I’m hurting, and I want you to feel my hurt” or “I need you to validate my feelings.” In order to address a scenario like this, a useful intervention is to acknowledge the hurt feelings (i.e. “Okay, given that you called me that name, I can tell you’re angry with me. Tell me what’s going on.”). It’s important that you don’t retaliate or hurt your child more at that moment by punishing them, and that reflective listening is used (i.e. “Okay, I hear you, and I see why that upset you.”) (Nelson, 2006).
The last Mistaken Goal is Assumed Inadequacy (Nelson, 2006). This goal is often present when a child stops putting forth effort into his or school work or says, “I just can’t do it.” The truth is that they’re often afraid of failing, so they simply forgo trying. The coded message behind their behavior is that “I need you not to give up on me.” These children are the most discouraged, and they need regular encouragement. In order to help your child if he or she presents this way, it is important that tasks are broken down into small achievable steps and that you acknowledge them for their effort and hard work. Additionally, it’s important that all criticism stops, and that you focus on your child’s strengths and not their weaknesses. For example, if a child has brought home all ‘F’s in the past, and he or she turns one of those ‘F’s into a ‘C’, it’s important that this is recognized by saying something like, “Oh my goodness, you brought that F up to a C! I’m so proud of you! This is a testament to how hard you’ve worked. Keep working hard and I know the other grades will improve too.”
In conclusion, I hope that I’ve been able to make your child’s misbehavior a lot less mysterious. It’s important to remember that when you catch your child exhibiting any of the characteristics that were described, the coded messages behind the behavior are often nobler than the surface behavior may lead you to believe. If you keep this in mind, it’ll help you to keep your anger in check and also to help you to get back to enjoying your children again.
Dreikurs, R. & Soltz, V. (1990). Children: The challenge. Plume: New York, NY.
Nelson, J. (2006). Positive discipline. Ballantine Books: New York, NY.
Any form of bullying can hurt a person’s self-esteem due to feeling not deserving of love and belonging (Brown, 2010). In the Bible, Joseph, a favored son, was bullied by his brothers out of jealousy because of the dreams God had given him. Goliath was a bully who taunted others and used power and stature to intimidate. Although these are examples of traditional bullying that occurred in the Bible, a different type of bullying has emerged in modern society called cyber-bullying.
What is cyber-bullying and why does it matter?
Cyber-bullying is when someone uses an electronic device to “threaten, harass, tease, or embarrass another person” (Greenfield, 2015, p. 144). With the development of the Internet and social media, we are now connected to others 24/7. Depending on the age group, 20-40% of young people have been cyber-bullied (Tokunaga as cited in Greenfield, p. 144). This is concerning because, unlike traditional bullying, the victim is unable to experience relief by not being around the bully. The online identity that is viewed as a “tethered self” (Turkle, 2012, p. 155) can be verbally abused by large amounts of people constantly. In 2012, a survey of US, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, showed 44% of suicides from the previous 15 months were due to cyber-bullying (LeBlanc, 2012 as found in Greenfield, p. 144).
What makes cyber-bullying so prevalent?
Anonymity seems to offer people permission to experiment with a new identity on the Internet (Suler as cited in Greenfield, p. 113). Moreover, for Digital Natives, time spent online is significant, creating more opportunities for impulsive, even harmful, choices in online interactions (Whitson, 2014). Research shows that starting at age 11, kids create a different online identity that is more rude, sexy, adventurous, or risky (Kidscape as cited in Greenfield, p. 121). Additionally, the Internet can lack typical social consequences that deter traditional bullying such as the victim’s facial expression and body language, social disapproval, and the fear of getting caught, which seem to make even those who have never bullied more likely to bully online (Greenfield; Whitson). This may contribute to ideas that cyber-bullying is not wrong since research shows cyberbullies have less remorse than traditional bullies (Greenfield, p. 146). It also speaks to the “diffusion and dilution of responsibility” of online activity (Robson & Witenberg as cited in Greenfield, p. 146). For example, who will catch the bully, how will they prove the online activity was done by that person, and what are the consequences? Thankfully, schools and the legal system are improving in navigating and litigating this difficult arena.
What makes it so dangerous?
As mentioned before, the permanency and continuity of cyber-hate appears to offer no solstice for the victim. Bullies attack something about a person that can confuse the victim, troubling the view that one is valued and effective in the world. This feeling of being wrong or not good enough can bring about anxiety and depressive symptoms. The victim may feel more insecure or ashamed, begin to isolate from others, and even believe the perspective that bullies have amplified and declared as truth about the victim (see Brown, 2010). The viral nature of cyber-bullying can lead victims to make poor conclusions about their worth and identity (Whitson, 2014, p. 68). When feeling down, a youth can believe they are not worthy of love and belonging, even doubting the love received from family and friends because of the perceived overwhelming online evidence of what others believe to be true about the victim. The hopeless feeling of being unable to stop it, change it, or challenge it can lead a person to thoughts or acts of suicide. If you have been cyber-bullied, seek additional support to work through difficult emotions, find belief in yourself as a person who is worthy of love and belonging, and develop a resilient identity that is valued and that you define.
What do we do about it?
How do we prevent it?
The previous two step-by-step guides can be found in the chapter on cyber-bullying in the book 8 Keys to End Bullying referenced below. For more information on overcoming bullying and understanding the impact of digital technology on our world, view the references used for this article.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Greenfield, S. (2015). Mind change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains. New York: Random House.
Turkle, S. (2012). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.
Whitson, S. (2014). Key 4: Deal directly with cyberbullying. A chapter from 8 keys to end bullying: Strategies for parents and schools (pp. 66 -95). New York: Norton & Co.