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  • Writer's picturewendistrauchmahoney

Yes, Your Child Is Being Cyberbullied

Updated: Apr 22

A core mission of Freedom Forever is the protection of children. In this day and age, online activity is often the one area where parents may feel they have limited control, as much as they might try. Online bullying, or cyberbullying, is one of the more difficult issues to tackle for so many parents. Even before the internet, bullying and being bullied were often a part of growing up for many children. In the days before the internet, kids were bullied in school and or on the playground. Now, however, children can be bullied on the internet and you might not know it until it is too late. In 2019, a report from the National Center for Education Statistics showed 22 percent of students ages 12-18 said they had been bullied during the school year.

On February 14, the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary met to hear powerful testimony related to "Protecting Our Children Online." Kristen Bride, a mother of two boys who "thought she was doing everything right" testified. Her son Carson was cyberbullied and committed suicide because of it. Her full testimony can be read here.

Carson was Bride's 16-year-old son who hung himself in the family's garage because he was being cyberbullied. Sadly, his family had no idea he was being "viciously bullied" by friends on Snapchat "using anonymous apps like Yolo and LMK to hide their identities."

Bride testified that she and her husband regularly spoke with their two boys about online safety and "waited until Carson was in 8th grade to give him his first cell phone, an old phone with no apps." Carson followed his parents' guidelines. What they did not know was the way those apps were using "popular social media platforms to promote anonymous messaging to hundreds of millions of teen users."

Anonymous apps are a huge threat to vulnerable children and teens. They can further enable cyberbullying and may lead children and teens to bouts of depression and sometimes, even suicide. Many teens do not tell their parents they are being cyberbullied. They try to manage on their own. They want to fit in. They fear parents will report their friends. They do not want their phones or internet access to be removed.

Some of these apps state they monitor cyberbullying of users. If they do, they often do not do a very good job. Kristen Bride tried to get Yolo to follow its own cyberbullying monitoring policy but her efforts were met with deaf ears. She ended up filing a class action lawsuit she believes lead to the suspension of Yolo and LMK from the Snapchat platform. New apps "like NGL and sendit are appearing on social media platforms and charging teens subscription fees to reveal the messenger or provide useless hints," Bride added. Unfortunately, the lawsuit was later dismissed in the Central District Court of California because of Section 230 protections. A letter from Bride's lawyers on the need to reform Section 230 and why can be found here.

Other parents like Rose Bronstein and Christine McComas also lost their children because of online bullying and were present for the hearing. Bride said federal legislation like the "Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA)" is "long overdue. Bride emphasized that such a law would "[require] social media companies to have a duty of care when designing their products for America’s children." She asked lawmakers to put aside politics and be better advocates for children.

Testimony from Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D., ABPP Chief Science Officer American Psychological Association discusses the "complexities" of online behavior and ways to shape policy on cyberbullying to protect children. He shared that "[d]epression rates for teens doubled between 2009 and 2019 and suicide is the second leading cause of death for U.S. youth, up 4% since 2020, with one in five teens considering suicide during the pandemic and eating disorder emergency room admissions for girls 12 to 17 years old doubling since 2019." He also shared concerns that individuals aged 10-25 years can be particularly vulnerable to "social rewards, and not yet fully capable of restraining themselves." Social media with its immediate feedback, clicks, likes and dislikes, "may exploit this biological vulnerability among youth."

Bride included in her testimony the following alarming information about cyberbullying its frequency and its impact:

How can you protect your children? Stay involved in all aspects of your children's lives. Communicate with your school principal, counselor, and teachers if you suspect bullying. Watch for sudden mood swings that might suggest the child is being bullied, as well as signs of depression, isolation, and separation from others.

Remember that children and even teens look for guidance and support from parents, even when they seem to be resistant to advice. Words have power. Be authentic with your words— but be kind. Be receptive. Listen, observe, and hear what they are trying to say to you. Put your work and your phone aside and give them your undivided time and attention.

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