Cyberbullying on the Silver Screen

Nationwide, cyberbullying is on the rise. Unfortunately, bullying of children isn’t new, but with the access to technology that we have now, there is access to children in ways that never existed before. As teens spend an average of nine hours per day online participating in social media, watching television, and more, the concept of cyberbullying, unfortunately, is not all that surprising. After all, bullies often feel freer to say whatever they want when using social media sites, sending a message via text, or sending emails.

But what exactly is cyberbullying? Defined in its purest form, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over the internet. This type of bullying can occur through digital devices such as text, SMS, and email, or shared content. Further, cyberbullying is quite prominent in social media and other online forums. It can consist of sending, posting, or otherwise sharing content that one would deem negative, harmful, or altogether false about someone else. In many cases, it includes the sharing of information that should remain private as it might cause embarrassment or humiliation. In some cases, cyberbullying can be so severe that it is deemed to be unlawful or criminal.

When these bullies craft hateful and derogatory messages online, they feel emotionally disconnected to the person that they are attacking. This makes bullies feel as though they are impervious to the consequences of their actions. Though many cyberbullies can be real-life bullies, it is often the case that cyberbullies would never participate in such hateful activities in person.

Cyberbullying on television

Many of today’s modern television shows depict cyberbullying. Whereas bullies in movies of the past were sure to exist, Hollywood has shifted their focus to these online bullies. However, perhaps one of the most interesting and recent situations has stemmed from the popular Netflix mini-series ’13 Reasons Why.’ This show speaks to the after-effects of the suicide of a classmate of the main characters. The teen suicide victim, Hannah, allegedly took her own life after being the subject of bullying and rape. The show and its producers have worked hard to create a support network for victims of bullying and often advertise and speak to the importance of the National Suicide Prevention Line and other support groups.

However, though the show was designed to create an awareness of bullying, both online and in real life, one of the third season actresses has gone on record to say that she too has been a victim of cyberbullying. In early September 2019, actress Grace Saif deactivated all of her social media accounts after receiving hate messages based on her character on the show. Her fellow actors on the show have taken to social media to remind viewers that Saif is an actress and that her actions on the show are acted and not real, but to no avail.

Not quite as recently, back in 2016, Degrassi: Next Class approached the subject of cyberbullying in one of their episodes. The show writers did a great job of conducting the necessary research to tell the story and to treat the incident like a serious crime. Subsequent episodes continued to broach the subject as well, ensuring that the topic of cyberbullying was taken seriously rather than as a one and done type episodic topic.

There have been several other incidences of cyberbullying across television. Here are just a few examples:

  • Mean Girls – Character Regina George, played by Rachel McAdams, is cruel and controlling to her friends.
  • My Bodyguard – In this 1980 film, Matt Dillon’s character plays a bully.
  • The Karate Kid – One of the most popular films of the 1980s, this is a classic story of a bullied teenager who learns to fight back.
  • Harry Potter – Even this beloved film series based on the popular young adult novels shares an ongoing story about bully Draco Malfoy and his treatment of Harry Potter and the other students at Hogwarts.
  • The Office – Of course, The Office is a popular comedy series that has been enjoyed for 13 seasons and has been enjoyed on repeat for the years since. However, even this popular adult comedy portrays an in-office bully played by David Koechner.
  • Back to the Future – Everyone’s favorite bully is Biff Tannen.

How to combat cyberbullying

It has always been challenging to be a parent. However, this has never been more than now when children spend so much time online for both academic and social purposes. Parents can no longer have full access to the interactions that their children are having with others. In many cases, children are making relationships online with people that they don’t know and will never meet in person. This can be extremely stressful for parents who want to keep their children safe. Unfortunately, these cyberbullies who wish to stir the pot and make cruel remarks are just about everywhere.

Parents should monitor the amount of time that their teens and younger children are spending online. Further, parents need to educate their children about the crime that is cyberbullying is so that their children know what to do if they become a target.

  • Make sure children know what cyberbullying is. Hating and trolling are both forms of cyberbullying and children should know that the behavior is not acceptable.
  • Discuss with your children why people act out. Teens need to understand that cyberbullying and bullying are both ways that people seek attention. In some cases, the bully is trying to see what they can get away with. In other cases, the bully is simply mean-hearted. And in extreme cases, the bully might be sending out their own signal that they need help.
  • Talk to your children about how to handle negative criticism. No one likes to hear that they aren’t good at something, or that they are unliked. However, the ability to handle negative criticism is a life skill that teens need to learn as early in life as possible.
  • Help your children to learn from other bullying experiences. Talk about instances of cyberbullying that are brought up in television programs and in movies, or about real examples that come up in the news or at your child’s school. Discuss the situation as presented and strategize about how to best handle it.
  • Teach your child what to do with real-life bullies. In some cases, cyberbullying can make its way to real-life settings. If you have identified that your child is a subject of any form of bullying, the appropriate school authorities must know. In the most serious of situations, law enforcement should be involved as well. Be sure to use the online community reporting tools that are available so that the company knows that someone is abusing their guidelines.
  • Know that it is acceptable to block certain online users. It is perfectly fine to block and unfollow cyberbullies.
  • Take screenshots of the harmful behavior when possible so that evidence will exist if the situation worsens.

Cyberbullying and its link to depression

Cyberbullying online and through social media channels has been linked to the rise of depression cases in teenagers. Fortunately, the victimization of these young people has started to receive a higher level of scrutiny, especially with the rise in suicide rates among teens.

The sooner that cyberbullying or real-life bullying is identified and addressed, the less likely that a teen will experience an erosion of their self-esteem. Parents need to be on the lookout for signs that their teen might be the subject of this type of bullying.

At the least, parents should be on the lookout for these signs of depression.

  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor body image
  • Self-critical behavior
  • Inability or helplessness in dealing with challenging situations

Also, be on the lookout for the following:

  • Teen becomes upset, sad, or angry after spending time online or on the phone
  • Teen withdraws from family or friends and avoids spending time in social situations
  • Teen demonstrates reluctance and even refuses to participate in activities that they once enjoyed.
  • Teen has an unexplained deterioration in grades.
  • Teen refuses to attend school or asserts anger or anxiety with a specific class, teacher, or school activity.
  • Teen fakes illness so that they do not need to attend school.
  • Teen demonstrates signs of depression or sadness as identified by low self-esteem, poor body image, self-critical behavior, or an inability to deal with challenging situations.

Therapist | Cyberbullying | Hillcrest

What to do if you have been a victim of cyberbullying

Hollywood has done a pretty good job over the years of bringing the issue of bullying and cyberbullying to life. Unfortunately, Hollywood is just Hollywood and can only help to create awareness. In real life, bullying can make the target feel helpless. However, some steps can be taken to protect teens and to ensure that they get the help that they need.

  • In many cases, the best strategy is to ignore the bully. This said, this is only the right strategy in more mild cases such as with name-calling or minor teasing. For more severe issues, ignorance is not the best method, and the instance should go to the attention of a trusted adult.
  • For any instance of bullying, whether it be in person or online, it is important to keep a record of what was said, to who, and where. Showing an adult these messages will help provide for another perspective, and the adult can help determine the right course of action to take.
  • Teens need to know that adults, including parents, teachers, members of law enforcement, counselors, church leaders, etc., are all trusted individuals that can help a teen to address instances of cyberbullying. Teens need to know that they do not need to suffer alone.
  • Victims should cease communication of all forms with the bully. This means that they should block the phone number on their phones, and block friendships or connections on social media sites. Facebook and Instant Messenger, two of the most common social media platforms, allow users to block other users so that they can no longer interact with you. Snapchat also has a blocking function that removes the person from your friends’ list, blocks them from sending you any further messages, blocks them from seeing your story, and prevents them from re-adding you as a friend.
  • All websites have a terms of use policy that is in place for a reason. Victims or witnesses of cyberbullying should not hesitate to report bullies to website administrators. By ensuring that these bullies are removed from websites where they can participate in negative and hurtful behaviors, they are less likely to be able to hurt someone else.

No matter how parents and their teens decide to address cyberbullying, it is essential to avoid sinking to the same level as the bully. This can end up with you breaking various laws and exacerbating a situation that could be controlled by alerting the proper authorities. Teens should never forward a message from a bully to someone else other than a trusted adult that is going to help to stop the bullying. These messages can easily be forwarded and create a runaway train that will be difficult to stop.

Finally, teens need to stay strong, keep their chin up, and avoid letting this situation chip away at their self-esteem. In most cases, cyberbullying behavior is about the bully and not the target. If bullying does start to get your teen down, ensure that they can talk to someone that they trust that can help them build back their self-esteem.

Cyberbullying creates an unsettling amount of damage among teens and younger children. Parents, teachers, and any adult in a position of authority need to work together to proactively make a difference and identify how to slow and eventually stop the crime of cyberbullying altogether. Awareness, even that brought on by the silver screen, will help to create the visibility and attention needed to bring meaningful change.

If you are a teenager – or have a teenager – dealing with depression and other mental health issues as a result of cyberbullying, know that you have options for treatment. Hillcrest is here and our dedicated staff knows how hard it can be to heal from trauma and addiction. Reach out today to find out how we can help!