Social media has brought bullying to a new level and become a major factor in depression among teens, and in extreme cases, suicide, said Amy Freer, a licensed clinical social worker and residential therapist at Pinnacle Pointe Hospital in Little Rock. And, it’s only getting worse.
Cyberbulling “permeates kids’ entire existence,” because it follows them home from school and onto the web, leaving them feeling rejected, isolated and devastated, she said. This is particularly true for ages 13-15, when fitting in is the No.1 priority.
So, what can parents do to ensure their teen does not become a victim of cyberbullying? Freer said it has to start with a discussion about what is appropriate and inappropriate to post online and how to treat all people with kindness, tolerance and empathy, rather than aggression and hostility.
Parents should also monitor social media use by first explaining the concern and then asking their teen’s opinion on reasonable limits. This makes them part of the decision. Parents also must encourage real life human interaction, not just cyber friends, she said.
Because the frontal lobe, or decision-making part of the brain, isn’t fully developed until age 25, teens rely on emotions to make decisions, Freer said. This is why they are so affected by posts on social media sites, and why such emotions can lead to depression and sometimes suicide, she said.
“That’s why everything is so emotionally fueled and sensitive, instead of weighing out what’s important,” she said. “Teens are not fully capable of really thinking it all through.”
“Cyberbulling permeates kids’ ‘entire existence,’ because it follows them home from school and onto the web, leaving them feeling rejected, isolated and devastated.”
Suicide Warning Signs
Freer said many of the teens she sees at Pinnacle Pointe “don’t seem to understand the value of life” or grasp the permanence of suicide. She said she’s been surprised that death and suicide are “right up there as a solution” to a problem, instead of learning to cope.
According to Freer, a mental-health professional should be contacted if someone you know displays any of these suicide warning signs:
- Prolonged periods of isolation, sadness or irritability
- Drastic mood swings
- Giving away possessions
- Writing, talking or drawing about death
- Making passive statements about suicide or not mattering
- Preoccupation with weapons
- Doing things out of the ordinary
If teens make suicide threats, pay close attention to what they have access to, like pills, guns or other weapons, Freer said.
To help children deal with difficult situations, parents must be available without being judgmental and let children know that what happens to them is important. Kids and teens need to know their parents will love them and be on their side no matter what, she said.