We shouldn’t be surprised when youths cyberbully themselves

 By Alice Cahn

“I wanted to see if someone was really my friend.”

Those were the words of a teenager who was interviewed as part of a study about the phenomenon of teens who bully themselves online as a way to manage feelings of sadness and self-hatred and to gain attention from their friends. Other teenagers reported that they engaged in self-cyberbullying because “I already felt bad about myself, and I wanted to make myself feel worse,” according to the survey published late last year in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Digital technology has made it easier to create and distribute pretty much everything and our children use the tools and software available as easily as past generations used pencils and landlines. While the news that teenagers are using social media to self-harm or get out in front of others doing it first is concerning, it shouldn’t be surprising. Even before the insidious ‘slam books’ of the late 20th century, teen angst over social status, friendship and self-image found its way into public view. The challenge now is that information — once limited to a neighborhood, school or town — is now global and irretrievable.

It is helpful and necessary for scientists to codify and present data describing this issue. That said, it is equally helpful to remember that scientists have finally proven what parents have known all along: that listening to our children and patiently offering unconditional love is critical to their self-worth and mental and physical health. I don’t fully understand my children’s facility and attachment to personal digital tools any more than my parents understood why I blasted Beatles music while doing homework and talking on my princess phone.

But what remains the same is the need for us as parents to make time away from digital tools to talk and listen; to share the mistakes and worries as well as the achievements. We can’t, and frankly shouldn’t, solve everything for our children. But regularly spending time together and talking about fears as well as dreams can help prevent self-harm of any kind. And as always, No Bully stands in solidarity with the vulnerable.

Please check out these resources if you need guidance about cyberbullying.