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The effects of cyberbullying on young people

Bullying has the potential to turn something like walking home from school or joining sports practice into a living nightmare for children. It can be physical or emotional and leave everlasting scars if kept bottled up. Traditionally bullying would happen outside the home. However, social media and mobile phones mean it is much harder to escape. Ethan, a school teacher, shared the story of a student in his class who fell victim to cyberbullying.


Spotting the signs 

Girl looks at mobile phone in school

Spotting the signs 

Sophie was 14 when I noticed her changing behaviour in class. She was losing interest in her studies and sat in the corner with her head mostly down. She stopped carrying her phone to class, and she seemed all of a sudden to be very distracted. 

I’ve seen many children suffer at the hands of bullies and I knew that these were classic signs of worry in teenagers, that should not be ignored. 

Difficult to talk to young people

As always, it’s easier to lessen the suffering of a young person if both the parents and teachers are involved in the solution. I didn’t know how to share my suspicions to her parents over a phone call, so I paid a casual visit to Sophie’s house one day. After speaking to them, I began to understand that Sophie had been having problems with her peers who were making her life difficult. 

Being 'different' 

Sophie was diagnosed with myopia at the age of nine and she’s been wearing glasses ever since. It was fine until she was 13, and she didn’t feel any different, but all of a sudden some children made fun of her and it caught on with the others. 

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re tagged 'ugly

She lost friends and was getting mocked for being different. 

Spreading quickly 

Spreading quickly 

The students she once called friends started a hate group on Facebook using a fake name and the group attracted some 180 members. Sophie was getting tagged in ugly memes and receiving abusive messages to her phone and on Facebook. The children even threatened to share her private texts and spread rumours about her sexuality if she reported them. 

These threats and the cyberbullying went on for five months before I intervened. When I sat down with Sophie and her parents we realised that the bullying had deeply affected Sophie’s mental health and she’d even started to self-harm

Teenage boy looks at laptop
young man on computer

Keeping children safe online

Young people should be able to be creative, personal and expressive, without threats from bullies or people looking to befriend, manipulate and abuse them. We fight for this right by spreading the word of online safety and working with children at risk of being groomed online.

Getting to the root of it 

Sophie’s parents weren't aware of the problem at first. Like many other children, Sophie had kept it to herself out of fear and embarrassment. 

It’s important to first make whoever is going through it understand that they aren’t alone and comfort them. 

Young people get victimised because of their low self-confidence and inferiority complex. With Sophie, lack of support and continuing insults ate up her confidence. 

But we were lucky to get to the problem relatively quickly and do something about it. We decided to track down the students behind the fake accounts, as I was also the teacher to these children. I made a call to their houses and spoke to their parents. I asked them to monitor their children’s internet activities. I also reported the group to Facebook and eventually it all stopped.  

A life without bullying 

It has been 2 years now and Sophie is happy, confident, and brave. She’s been working on her self-esteem and her studies ever since and is soon going to college. 

As Sophie’s story shows, the effects of cyberbullying can take over a young person’s life. Equally it also shows it if we are understanding and can get to the heart of it early it can be stopped. There are things we can do to help a child cope and stop it happening in future.  

We have more information on how young people can cope with bullying and how to stay safe online

Author: Edward Herbert