“Looking back, some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent with my arm in packets of breakfast cereal, rootling around for a free gift.” – Craig Brown
The renovated English critic and satirist has written about the unalloyed joys of childhood and how an unexpected freebie was more delightful than the most precious gifts received as grown-ups. Back then, childhood and adolescence mean picnics, playing in the mud and spending long hours under the sun. Children were freer and more productive than they are now. With the advent of social media, young people are more likely to be glued to their or parents' laptop and mobile phones, uploading photographs, chatting with strangers and keeping a check on what their friends are doing.
Children are quite different nowdays. Social media has made them wiser beyond their tender years, but they are unaware of the dangers. There are bullies who masquerade as friends. Hangouts like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the easiest means for finding preys to feed their narcissistic egos.
Studies in the past have pointed out that cyberbullying is widespread among adolescents with unsupervised access to cell phones and social media platforms. A recent study, titled “Cell Phone Ownership and Cyberbullying in 8-11 Year Olds: New Research,” has revealed that a significant 9.5 percent of children in third, fourth and fifth grades were victims of cyberbullying. The researchers examined data of 4,584 students between 2014 and 2016 and found that third and fourth graders who owned cellphones were at a greater risk of becoming victims. The findings were presented on September 18 at the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition in Chicago.
Impact of cyberbullying on young minds
It all starts with an innocent comment on someone's photo like “you look fat” or “you look silly.” Used by a cyberbully to test the waters, such posts may soon exacerbate into a full-fledged attack on the victim, and friends and acquaintances within the social group join in. Harassed people withdrew their post and draw into a shell. Further victimization could lead to trauma and suicidal thoughts. Children who have been blamed on social media could consider themeless useless and undeserving of any love, respect or attention, all of which could affect their mental health and brain development.
Cyberbullying can take many forms, including the act of demeaning the victim. Some of the commonest forms are:
- Ganging up on online forums and harassment the individual by posting lewd comments and pictures.
- Disclosing personal information about a child. Children are extremely vulnerable when their secrets are revealed on a social platform.
- Spreading false stories to victimize the child. The bully could use this as a means to prove his / her superiority. The psychological impact of rumor mongering can be severe.
- Excluding the person from a common chat or forum and making him / her the butt of their jokes. Social exclusion can cause the child to question his or her self-identity. Prolonged isolation could lead to depression and even suicidal ideation.
Even cyberbullies may also suffer from mental health disorders. It is not just the one who is bullied, perpetrators of online harassment are also at an increased risk of developing personality disorders later. Most bullies have narcissistic personality traits. Their chances of developing an anti-social personality as adults or getting drawn into the vicious cycle of substance use disorder are inordinarily high.
Road to recovery
In today's changing times, cell phones are a necessity. The basic idea behind providing young children with cell phones is ensuring their safety and helping guardians reach out to them in times of need. However, unrestricted and unmonitored access can be damaging. Parents and families play a pivotal role in educating the child about the perils of social media and encouraging them to adopt healthier lifestyle practices.