The Impact of Cyberbullying on Young Girls

Cyberbullying is particularly dangerous because it has an invasive 24/7 quality.
Cyberbullying is particularly dangerous because it has an invasive 24/7 quality.

From tweens to teens to young adults, girls usually have it worse when it comes to faceless bullies online according to Cyberbullying Research Center.

The impact of digital hate is hurting our youth, especially our girls. Some headlines of young suicides don’t have teen in them anymore, because they don’t make it to their teenage years. It’s a tragedy since many are related to cyberbullying.

Author and psychotherapist, Katie Hurley, has an upcoming new book, No More Mean Girls that explores the culture of cruelty among young girls today and offers insights to turn it around:

“We all want to protect our girls from things like relational aggression, cyberbullying, and social exclusion, and sometimes it might even feel like avoidance of these topics works to some degree. But if we don’t deal with what’s happening around us, we never truly learn to cope.” - Katie Hurley, No More Mean Girls

In June 2017, the Girls Scouts of the USA announced they were adding cyber-security badges as one of their skills. It will include data privacy, cyberbullying and Internet safety.

I recently interviewed Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a child psychologist and Chief Girl and Parent Expert at Girl Scouts of the USA, about her thoughts on the affect of cyberbullying on girls:

Q1. Cyberbullying is major concern for parents today. What do families need to know about online bullying and the impact it can have on girls specifically?

A1. Parents need to know just how high the chance is that it can happen to their daughter -- how harmful it is -- and that their involvement is crucial. More than one in five girls in the U.S. will experience cyberbullying, compared to fewer than one in ten boys (according to Center for Disease Control).

Cyberbullying is particularly dangerous because it has an invasive 24/7 quality. While girls used to be able to seek respite out of school, when it’s happening online, it feels constant, endless and even more public.

Studies at the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) show that girls place a high value, and often define their own self-worth, in relation to their friendships, social status and connection to others. In determining the most pressing issues that girls want to talk about at the upcoming global gathering, G.I.R.L. 2017, the all-girl leadership team found that bullying was at the top of the list.

Q2. What can parents do to help girls digest the troubling stories in the news about girls and bullying in this high-exposure media age?

A2. Depending on your daughter’s age, talk directly about what’s going on when there are stories about bullying in your community or in the news. Let her know that these stories are upsetting to you, too.

Ask her how kids treat each other at her school and online. Ask what happens when kids don’t treat each other kindly and/or engage in bullying behavior. Have these conversations regularly and frequently. Reinforce that she can come to you with any worries about her own friendships and/or bullying behavior being pointed at her.

Q3. What advice do you have for parents to engage with their daughters to help protect them against cyberbullying? Whether they are being bullied or at risk of becoming a bully?

A3. Just as parents want to stay in the know about who their daughter is spending time with and where she’s going in person, parents need to do the same in the digital and social media space.

Direct communication is always key and if you communicate regularly about such topics, there’s increased comfort for both of you. Ask your daughter who she’s been chatting with, what she likes about those friends, and which things about them she might be annoyed by. With younger children, a spot check of text messages is often appropriate. Younger kids might not be as aware of how the messages they send come across, and they might not be aware of or know how to handle inappropriate situations. It’s important to teach your daughter what types of communication are best had in-person and what types are best had online to resolve a conflict.

Q4. How to you explain to your daughter when adults are acting badly online, especially when you are teaching them to behave responsibly and respectfully.

A4. When such offensive behavior language makes the news, it’s an opportunity to call it out. However, there may be times your daughter is witnessing such behavior and doesn’t bring it to your attention -- making it more important to lead by example.

When you do hear something inappropriate, ask your daughter if she heard it as well, and whether or not they thought it was OK. Take the opportunity to explain to them why you don’t consider the language acceptable. Point out who this behavior or language could hurt. Let this open the door to how adults, or kids, treat each other online.

Q5. According to one survey only 33% of teens report when they are being harassed online. How can we encourage our daughter to tell us when they are being cyberbullied?

A5. Open and on-going communication with your daughter about relationships is critical, so that when something IS going on, your daughter will be more likely come to you. Too often girls are confused or embarrassed by what’s going on, and may feel like they should handle situations on their own.

The bottom line is to get your girl talking. Bullying can be a tricky topic to get into, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication open—and for your girl to know you love her and are there to support her.

If you think your daughter is being bullied online or off, talk with her about your interest in alerting her teacher or an administrator at school to simply take a closer look at what’s going on. She needs to know you’re on her team.

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