Cyber Bullying


When people talk about Cyber Bullying and the use of social media, there are often calls for 'banning Facebook and access to technology'. Cyber bullying is simply a modern form of the old school taunts and name calling which has occurred since any of our grandparents went to school. The difference of course with the modern version is the ease of access and immediacy of such taunts and name calling, in addition to the public humiliation component. In Grandpa's day, if a boy called him a name or taunted him, it was usually done face to face and in front of a few of their respective mates. The young people today, whilst being exposed to the same or similar taunts, are now forced to do so in a much more public manner. With a 'friends list' in the hundreds and with everyone being 'friends' with someone in the area, the modern day taunt can easily reach thousands of viewers in a matter of minutes, with the added bonus of being permanently recorded for those who missed it, to go back and 'like' it at a later date.

So with all this talk of Cyber Bullying, are the young people of today 'just being soft', do they need to 'harden up' or do adults need to realise things are not like they used to be when they were a kid? The taunts and the issues might be the same or similar, but the public humiliation component is significantly different. Do we all remember the 'girl whose mum cut her hair' or 'the boy who got an unwanted erection in science class' from when we went to school? Usually it was only the small group from your school who knew about anything which happened and a few friends-of-friends who were in the know. For the young people today, all the indiscretions, the bad hair days, the relationship breakups, they are all on a digital screen available 24 hours a day, from any hand held device with internet access.

Teenagers are known to experience what is referred to as an 'imaginary audience'. This term was first introduced by David Elkind to refer to a concept where young people falsely presume that their actions and appearance are the sole focus of everyone's attention, i.e. "They're ALL looking at me" As most adults eventually discover, very few people are 'looking at them' with the sole focus on what they are wearing or doing, as most people simply don't notice. Psychologists are always mindful of the imaginary audience concept because of the negative impact this can have on a young person's psychological development.

The beauty of Elkind's theory was that in almost every instance, everyone was NOT looking at the teenagers. However, now thanks to social media and technology based communication, it would appear that everyone IS looking at what they wore, or what they did or said and in addition to this, they are also able to leave comments on it instantly.

teenagers enjoying laptopSo what does this mean for the psychological well being of our teenagers today? Do we ban all use of social media or tell them to toughen up when something is posted about them online? Or do we listen and try to understand that everyone WAS watching them and try to minimise the damage done to their pride or their emotions before their thoughts take over their actions and they do something reckless or risky? And what of the person who posted the original comment, are they really bullies or are they engaging in normal adolescent communication but now being judged by the online audience for their 'harsh' comments or rude statements?

"what other people think about you, is their business and if they tell you they think that you think that you're better than them, don't be afraid to tell them you're' sorry they feel that way'" then log off, unfriend or block but never blame the vehicle!