April 28, 2014 —

Cyberbullying is a very serious concern in today's society. What many parents don't realize is that it doesn't discriminate; it can happen to any age group, race, school, community; and teens will turn to many things for emotional relief, including drugs - especially accessible ones that they can find in medicine cabinets. 

95% of children have access to the internet and 80% have cell phones. Additionally, 48% of them have data plans on these devices, making the increase in cyberbullying expected, but also terrifying.

How are our children, tweens and teens dealing with this type of emotional harassment? 

According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens who are harassed online or through cell phone messages are more likely to develop symptoms of substance abuse, depression and Internet addiction than their peers who are not cyberbullied.

Additionally, the study included the following key findings:

  • Teens who receive hurtful and harassing messages online or via cell phones are more likely to use drugs, struggle with internet addiction and develop symptoms of depression.
  • Teens who are depressed or who abuse drugs are also often victims of cyberbullying.

How serious is cyberbullying and the reaction of your teen?

Some parents believe their child would never use drugs, but when faced with overwhelming feelings of hopelessness after the humiliation of mean posts or embarrassing photos that go viral, a young person may develop negative thoughts and behavior. 

Whether it is drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, taking prescription drugs (not prescribed to them) or abusing over-the-counter medicines, some teens believe that self-medicating will relieve their emotional pain. 

Additionally, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and while bullying and cyberbullying are not considered to be causes of suicide, many believe various forms of bullying can be a contributing factor in a teen’s decision to take his or her life.

Here are some warning signs that your teen may be harassed online. He or she may…

  • Avoid discussions about what they are doing on the computer
  • Appear angry, depressed, moody or withdrawn after using the computer or reading text messages
  • Resist or refuse going to school
  • Start withdrawing from regular activities, such as sports and hobbies
  • Allow grades to start dropping
  • Start showing signs of substance abuse

So what can you do?

  • Monitor your teen’s social media sites closely, and learn about what his or her status updates may mean
  • Create more family time. Eating meals as a family has been proven to reduce risky behavior and open up dialogue. 
  • Ride in the car with your teen. Sound strange? When you are side-by-side, all technology off, you can truly talk to each other. 
  • Communication is key to education, which in turn is key to prevention. Having open lines of communication empowers your teenager to make better decisions.
  • Talk to your teen about cyberbullying, even if he or she isn’t a victim. It’s so important for teens to learn how to be upstanders – or active bystanders – as well as know how to report online harassment.
  • Secure your medicine cabinets; safeguard your aspirin, cough medicines and prescription drugs. 

When I hear parents say it can't happen to them, or not my teen, I want to cringe. I speak with parents on a weekly basis that once said those exact words. More and more I am hearing about victims of bullying and cyberbullying who are turning to substance abuse to relieve the pain. The truth is that it can be your teen. It may be your teen.

Parents need to understand that bullying and cyberbullying is a modern epidemic.  Words are literally killing our youth - both physically and emotionally. Teens may turn to the medicine cabinet if they are pushed hard enough, so we as parents must continue to educate, empower and inform our teens about the risks of medicine abuse as well as cyberbullying prevention.

 

Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She is the founder of Parents' Universal Resource Experts, Inc., which has helped thousands of families since 2001 with at-risk teenagers. Her first book, Wit's End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen continues to be resource for many parents raising teens today. Follow Sue on Twitter and join her on Facebook.