February 7th is Safer Internet Day. From cyberbullying to social networking to digital identity, each year Safer Internet Day aims to raise awareness of emerging online issues and current concerns.

It’s safe to say that everyone has encountered some form of bullying in their lifetime. It can happen at any age, but usually we associate it with our school years.

Bullying can take many forms. It can be verbal, physical, and emotional and it can have far-reaching effects. From mental and physical health issues, to lower academic achievements, the consequences can be seen into adulthood and can affect both the bullied and the bully. Victims can suffer psychological and physical symptoms and have a greater risk of anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

Bullying has been around for a long time and isn’t going away. A new survey from stopybullying.gov suggests that 20 percent1 – one in five – of US students have been bullied in school. However, the nature of bullying has changed dramatically in recent years.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in children using digital platforms for personal and education purposes. For younger people living through the lockdown, the only contact they were able to have with their friends was virtual.

As a result, they used social and messaging platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Zoom and others far more frequently than in the past. While there are benefits that can result from online interactions, there are also risks.

Hidden behind a screen

In today’s world, cyberbullying has become harder to contain, harder to ignore and harder to get away from.

According to a recent study by L1GHT – a company that specializes in tracking online harassment – cyberbullying on social media sites increased by up to 70 percent2 during the pandemic. This included a sharp rise in toxicity directed at Asians, female adolescents and those in the LGTBQ+ community.

Although cyberbullying does not involve physical violence, it can be more intense than traditional bullying. While traditional bullying is generally limited to schoolyards or street corners, cyberbullying can occur anywhere, at any time, even at home, via smartphones, emails, texts and social media.

As cyberbullying can occur anonymously in online settings, it’s harder to establish the bullies’ identities and prove who is ultimately responsible. This also means that the bullies are far less connected to the damage they cause and can take things further, as a result.

All of this is compounded by the fact that there is a lack of supervision online. Both in and out of school, teachers and adults are regarded as enforcers. There is no authority online, so abuse can quickly escalate. What’s more, victims are also often reluctant to tell adults what’s going on for fear of losing access to their devices and their only connection to their friends. 

"We don’t just stand up to bullying in schools. Within New York Life itself, we have zero tolerance of bullying in any form. It’s time for us all to stand up to bullying wherever we see it, and to give every child the support they need to be good at life."

How to tackle bullying

Bullying may be evolving, but one positive change is that it’s now identified as a serious problem. All children deserve to be treated fairly, and we all have a part to play in working together to support any child who’s being bullied online. Here are some tips on how to recognize, prevent and stop cyberbullying.

  • Reach out proactively
    Asking for help can be a challenge for victims of cyberbullying. Most young people don’t tell their parents about bullying online. Many would rather suffer in silence than risk losing technology privileges. Proactively talking about cyberbullying is a great way to tackle the problem – and potentially stop it early on.
  • React in the right way
    Finding out that someone you care for is being bullied is very hard to hear. You might be angry, but it’s important to stay calm and get the full story. As an adult or parent, one of the best ways to encourage young people to treat each other fairly is to be a model of positive behavior. Sometimes that means standing up to the bullying, sometimes not. Together, you and your child can figure out how to get there.
  • Block the bullies
    As well as supporting your child emotionally, there are practical steps you can take if the bullying has taken place on an online platform. Sometimes retaliation is what bullies want. It’s often easier to just remove them from the situation. Most social media apps allow your child to block any user that’s being abusive and report the problem to the service.
  • Start to unplug from technology
    Since there are no longer any COVID-19 restrictions, children should be spendin less time on social media or checking texts and stay connected with their friends in healthier ways. Interacting with real people in the real world will distance them from online bullies and help to reduce anxiety and depression.

Standing up to bullying

At New York Life, we know it’s hard to keep children safe from every challenge in life, especially at school. That’s why we’re doing everything we can to help them overcome difficulties and grasp opportunities. The New York Life Foundation has dedicated more than $41 million in grants and programs to support middle school youth in transitioning to high school since 2014.

We don’t just stand up to bullying in schools. Within New York Life itself, we have zero tolerance of bullying in any form. It’s time for us all to stand up to bullying wherever we see it, and to give every child the support they need to be good at life.

To find out more about how to spot the signs of bullying and what to do, visit: https://www.stopbullying.gov/


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Media contact
Lacey Siegel
New York Life Insurance Company
(212) 576-7937

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