According to new research, cyberbullying can worsen symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in young people.

It’s not only about online bullying and harassment, social media use and screen time can lead to an increase in depression and anxiety among teens and adolescents.

Sticks and stones may break your bones – but words, they can last wound you for a long-time.

Especially when cruel comments, mean memes or even distorted images go viral, a young person isn’t emotionally prepared for the ramifications of how this can affect their mental health.

Teens, depression and cyberbullying

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine study examined adolescent psychiatric inpatients ages 13 to 17 and their prevalence of cyberbullying and related it to social media usage, current levels of symptoms and histories of adverse early life experience.

“Cyberbullying is possibly more pernicious than other forms of bullying because of its reach,” said Phillip Harvey, the study co-author, in a university news release. “The bullying can be viral and persistent. To really be bullying, it has to be personal — a directly negative comment attempting to make the person feel bad.”

The study also uncovered other facts about cyberbullying:

  • Time spent online is not a determining factor in who is cyberbullied.
  • People from all economic and ethnic backgrounds are vulnerable.
  • Those who have previously been bullied are at a higher risk of being bullied again.

As we read more about online harassment climbing and teen sadness on the rise, we have to note in 2019 a University of Buffalo study revealed that teens are suffering sleep disruption patterns – due to cyberbullying and social media usage. This is causing anger, persistent irritability, as well as anxiety in young people.

3 Ways to help your teen reduce cyberbullying

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize if your teen is struggling online, there are reasons they don’t want to tell someone (especially a parent).

  1. Fear of consequences.
  2. Humiliation and embarrass.
  3. Fear of making it worse.

Being proactive starts offline with regular chats about their online life. It’s imperative your teen (or tween) understands that online bullying is unacceptable. They also need to know that, sadly, it is part of the digital world.

  1. Flag, block and report. For every social platform your child signs up for (including text messages), be sure they know the features to report abusive content. Also take the time to read the terms of service as it pertains to harassment and abuse. It will give them a better understanding of what constitutes cyberbullying and hate speech.
  2. Critical thinking. The importance of their online reputation and how it will impact their future from college admission to potential jobs. Help them think through what they are about to post or text. It’s more about pause — than think. Yes, think about it, but literally stop (pause) before you hit that send. What’s going to be the long-term consequences of that comment, image or meme? If you are forwarding something – be sure it’s a truthful comment or post. We have seen people suffer with tweets and posts that have come back to haunt them.
  3. Encourage your teen to socialize more in person with their friends. Did you know that according to a Screen Education survey, 69% of teens prefer to be with their peers in-real-life rather than online? This same survey shared that 26% of teens wished parents would impose screen time limits. Help your teen curb their device time with these tips.

Remember, socializing in real-life helps us develop empathy for others….. isn’t that what the goal is?