Does more screen time mean more cyberbullying?

File photo (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)
File photo (AP Photo/Martha Irvine) (Associated Press)

COVID-19 restrictions have left many children bored and longing for social time with their friends, and some are turning to screens.

But experts say when social media use goes up, so does a child’s risk for being cyberbullied. And, according to one recent study, the effects of cyberbullying can last longer than parents might expect.

“Cyberbullying actually has a long-term impact on mental health,” said Cleveland Clinic’s Tatiana Falcone, M.D., who did not take part in the study. “In this study, they looked at the incidence of depression, anxiety and PTSD, and they found that a lot of the kids who were cyberbullied also have increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Falcone said the ability for people to be anonymous online makes it easier to say mean things. Often times, kids have online “friends” that they don’t actually know, which according to previous research, makes it more likely for them to become victims of cyberbullying.

“When you’re saying something and it’s not to the face of the person, people feel empowered about saying bad things, and then the other friends -- or the other people -- don’t even think of the impact of that comment and they just ‘like it,' and so that impacts the child even more,” Falcone said.

Parents want to give teenagers privacy and responsibility, but Falcone believes it’s still a wise idea to check in on their social media use from time to time.

“Once a week, look at all the websites that your kids are going to, block some of the websites that are not appropriate for them, make sure their friends that they have online are real friends that they know and randomly look at some of the chat interactions that they have,” she said.

Falcone said it can be really difficult for children to open up to an adult and admit they are being cyberbullied. If a child suddenly begins to become withdrawn or complains of stomach aches or headaches, it could be a sign that they are dealing with an online bully, and parents should have a conversation with their child about it.