Cyberbullying: Not Your Dad’s Schoolyard Fisticuffs


Adults of a certain age hear the term “cyberbullying,” and they wonder: What’s the bid deal? Bullying. Hahaha! What a cliché! It’s the stuff of our favorite movies, and we love to see the underdog triumph over his abusers. Anyone familiar with A Christmas Story?

We adults have images of “bullying” from our own youth. We picture heads shoved into lockers, and then a collective of boys coming to the aid of a friend, overpowering or outsmarting the bully triumphantly. When we hear the term “cyberbullying” we picture little more than name calling from behind a screen.

But there’s a problem with this line of thinking. Cyberbullying bears no real resemblance to schoolyard bullies in our collective nostalgic memories. Teens have gone far beyond our knowledge and experience online. Their online lives are complex and their culture online dips into corners we adults truly don’t understand. Cyberbullying is something quite new, unique in recent years. Cyberbullying may be as simple as a few hurtful comments, but more often it involves systematic harassment day after day, conducted in the public eye on social media. When cyberbullying affects teens, as it increasingly does, the psychological effects extend far beyond those of a punch to the ribcage in the school hallway. Cyberbullying is vicious humiliation. It’s more than a developing teen can bear.

Youth culture, by its nature, has always attempted to exclude adults. Teens develop their own music, manner of dress, and even language. The teen stage involves bonding with peers, wherever possible outside of the watchful eyes of adults, and it has been this way throughout human history. Each teen cohort makes this culture anew.

As such, adults cannot fall into the belief that we understand what is happening in our teens’ lives fully. We cannot fall into the lazy fallacy, “Oh, we know all the tricks because we were teens once.” It’s a dangerous fallacy. We must accept that with every round of remaking culture, teens stay one step ahead of us. As soon as we catch on, they move on. Teens find new ways to fool us and get around our restrictions. It’s what teens do.

Technology is moving so quickly. Any control that affects Twitter or Snapchat will drive teens, in search of a private place outside of the eyes of adults, to find a newer platform and they are being developed everyday.

Technology has also outpaced mental health research, so that studies published in the last year were based on data collected years prior, complied, and finally brought to press after literature reviews and statistical analyses. The devastation created by the growing culture on anonymous abuse and harassment online has not been fully measured to date. What we know is that the suicide rate is up for the first time in a very long time, most notably in young teen girls. And we know that online interactions are highly suspicious as a primary cause. We know that being a victim of serious bullying or abuse leads to a rise in mental heath disorders, and that suicidal ideation and suicidal action rise when the presence of mental health conditions rise. And we know that the online world is moving so quickly that most of us hardly understand the implications.

Posted on April 17, 2017 .