Insights & Articles
Mental Health & Protecting Our Children From Cyberbullying
As we endure the 14th month of the pandemic, and what seems to be the never-ending cycle of lockdowns, children and youth have been online for many aspects of their lives, from virtual schooling to using social media for social connection. This increased online presence means the risk of online abuse and cyberbullying is higher than ever. At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada reported having been bullied recently.[i]
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technology (social media, gaming platforms, instant messaging). This repeated behaviour is meant to intimidate, put down, spread rumours or make fun of someone.[ii] The most common form of cyberbullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive e-mails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.[iii]
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death among Canadian children and youth. Canada has one of the highest teenage suicide rates internationally.[iv] Any participation in bullying increases the risks of suicidal ideation in youth.[v]
Cyberbullying is illegal. Canada’s Criminal Code addresses bullying, including cyberbullying. Uttering threats,[vi] intimidation,[vii] and criminal harassment[viii] are examples of some of the criminal charges associated with bullying that have serious legal consequences, including potential terms of imprisonment.[ix]
Recently, the court has recognized the seriousness of cyberbullying and the sharing of intimate images. This form of cyberbullying involves the publishing of intimate images without the consent of the person in the image. Judges have the authority to remove intimate images if they were posted without consent.[x][xi]
Understanding the Signs
Almost half of all Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying.[xii] However, it is easy for parents or other caregivers to miss the signs of cyberbullying.
Bullying of any form can have both short and long-term effects on the mental health and well-being of children and teens alike. Victims of bullying can lose confidence and become sick. Some of the long-term physical and psychological consequences include:
- Withdrawal from family and school activities, wanting to be left alone
- Stomach aches, headaches or other physical symptoms
- Panic attacks
- Adverse impact on sleep – either insomnia or sleeping too much
- Difficulty in concentration and decrease inability to focus.[xiii]
Parents and caregivers can help children connect with each other safely online and address cyberbullying by:
- Encourage time away from devices
- Pay attention to behavioural changes in children
- Report abusive behaviour
- Initiate conversations about bullying
- Promote healthy relationships[xiv]
Exploring Social Media Safely
Understanding and monitoring your child’s online presence can help to identify cyberbullying. Each social platform has tools that allow you to restrict who can comment on or view posts or who can connect automatically as a result, and to report cases of bullying. Many involve simple steps to block, mute or report cyberbullying, and should be explored.
Social media companies also provide educational tools and guidance for children, parents and teachers to learn about cyberbullying and help minimize risks.[xv] Social media platforms have outlined their anti-bullying policies and the steps for reporting abusive behaviour:
No matter which social media platform children choose to use, it is important for parents to monitor their use. Resources like Media Smarts provide fundamentals of digital literacy for parents.
If you or someone you know is struggling with bullying, it is important to seek help.
Bullying Canada has 24/7/365 support and can be reached at (877) 352-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They are a national organization dedicated to facilitating communication between victims of bullying and their communities.
Kids Help Phone offers professional counselling, information, and referrals with volunteer-led, text-based support to young people. Their services are completed confidential and can be reached at 1-800-668-6868.
Advocating for Your Legal Rights
Cyberbullying, and bullying of any type, can have devastating consequences, especially for young people. In a world of increasing digital connection, it is important to maintain a safe online presence. The Personal Injury team at McKenzie Lake is experienced and ready to advocate for victims of cyberbullying.
Please contact a personal injury lawyer today for a free initial consultation by email or by phone at (519) 672-5666. In many cases, your legal fees are deferred until a settlement is reached. We welcome referrals from other lawyers.
This article was written by Personal Injury Lawyer Judith Hull and Articling Student Olivia Pomajba.
[i] Molcho M., Craig W., Due P., Pickett W., Harel-fisch Y., Overpeck, M., and HBSC Bullying Writing Group. “Cross-national time trends in bullying behaviour 1994-2006: findings from Europe and North America.” International Journal of Public Health. 2009, 54 (S2): 225-234
[ii] Bullying Canada, “Frequently Asked Questions” Bullying Canada (2020)
[vi] Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46) s. 264.1
[vii] Ibid. s. 423 (1)
[viii] Supra note vi
[x] Supra note vi, s. 162.1
[xi] Public Safety Canada, “What are the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying?” (2018)
[xii] Supra note iv