At the latest Speaker Series, Navigating Social Media: A Guide for Parents & Grandparents, Sunnybrook experts discussed how various social media platforms work and the possible mental health implications stemming from their use. Sivan Keren Young, Director of Digital and Visual Communications, and Jessica Lepore, Digital Communications Specialist, offered an overview on cyberbullying and what can be done.
Cyberbullying is bullying someone electronically, or sending out hurtful messages about them over social media channels. It can also include posting private messages publicly, impersonating someone online, sharing unflattering images on purpose or pretending to be someone else online to obtain and share personal information.
Cyberbullying can take many forms, including exclusion, mean comments, threatening language and/or encouraging self harm. With the growing popularity and use of various social media platforms, cyberbullying has become more common, affecting an estimated 30% of Ontario students. The emotional and mental health effects of cyberbullying can be extensive, including fear, low self-esteem, depression and increased anxiety.
So what can be done? Young and Lepore offered several strategies to help parents and grandparents.
Know Your Apps
It’s a good idea to get familiar with how various social networking apps function. Download them yourself and become familiar with how they work.
Talk About It
When it comes to what social media platforms kids are using, it’s important to keep lines of communication open. According to the Fall 2017 report of the U.S.-based Taking Stock With Teens survey, Snapchat was the favourite at 47%, followed by Instagram at 24%, Facebook at 9% and Twitter at 7%. The vast majority of teens report going online daily.
Many platforms offer privacy setting features, so review those with your child or grandchild so everyone understands what is being shared. But even with these settings, emphasize with kids that they need to think before posting anything online. Once a message is on social media, it’s out there forever. Even “disappearing” images and videos, as well as private messages or posts, can be captured and reposted.
Emphasize that no one should post anything online they wouldn’t be OK with the whole world seeing. Keeping electronics in a common area of the house where kids can be supervised is advised.
Know When to Get Help
If your child or grandchild is being cyberbullied, talk to them about what is happening so you understand the context and best next steps. If it is happening at school, know that there are school board policies to address this issue. Reaching out to the school principal is a good first step to get more information on how to handle the situation.
If you notice a concerning change in behaviour, like social withdrawal or depression, you may want to reach out to your child’s doctor for guidance.