It’s hard to believe there was ever a time when smart phones weren’t glued to our hands, tablets weren’t occupying our attention and laptops didn’t drive our daily activities. It’s harder still to imagine a world without Google, Wikipedia and—gasp—Facebook. And yet, that was my childhood.
For today’s kids, technology is the linchpin of everyday life. Information is available 24/7. And how they interact with one another—and the world—is ever evolving. Evolving with it are the risks. Chief among them: cyberbullying. Research tells us that 87 percent of today’s youth in the U.S. have witnessed cyberbullying, and 34 percent of students say they’ve been the target of it.
With one out of three kids feeling like they are more accepted on social media networks than in real life, the risk of being bullied online has never been higher. Whether it’s the spreading of rumors and hurtful comments—or more targeted threats based on one’s looks, sexuality, race or religion—cyberbullying is a serious issue that is plaguing schools around the world.
My nephew, Liam, just recently turned 10. When he’s not growing an inch every time I see him, he’s playing video games on his mother’s phone. As his uncle, I often feel concerned when Liam is in his technology tunnel. I can’t always control what is being communicated to him online. But what I can do is be observant. I can look for the warning signs of cyberbullying when I’m spending time with him, alert his parents or step in as needed. I can act when he:
- Becomes upset, sad or angry during or after using the Internet or cell phone
- Withdraws from family or friends
- Expresses reluctance or refuses to participate in activities previously enjoyed
- Has an unexplained decline in grades
- Refuses to go to school, or expresses anger or dissatisfaction with a class or school in general
- Increasingly reports symptoms of illness for which he wants to stay at home
- Shows signs of depression or sadness
Although today’s generation is growing up in a world that’s markedly different than the one I grew up in, the problems they face aren’t that dissimilar. The good news is that the increased national focus on online aggression has made kids, parents and teachers more alert to the danger signs. While I won’t be able to monitor Liam’s every online interaction, I can do my part by being aware and available when he needs me. And that’s a start.