From the May 2019 issue

Combatting Cyberbullying

Digital harassment can cause serious issues for children. Dr. Salvatore Ventimiglia of Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center offers advice for helping kids cope with cyberbullying.

Before smartphones and social media, bullies targeted kids in the hallways at school, on the playground during recess and even on the way home. But once those bullied kids reached their front doors, they were able to escape those taunts and find some solace in their homes.

Today, however, cyberbullying – which involves electronic threats and harassment – has made it impossible for children who are bullied to find peace after school or on weekends.

Cyberbullying can happen anytime and anyplace, and this form of bullying has become increasingly more prevalent among children in middle and high school. It can even happen as young as elementary school, says Dr. Salvatore Ventimiglia, a pediatrician at Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, located in Shelby Township and Troy. Once a child has access to a smartphone, this form of bullying can begin.

Cyberbullying, also known as online bullying, can involve sending mean messages and embarrassing photos, singling someone out through messaging and more, he adds.

And those electronic threats can spread like wildfire throughout a child’s school and, in some cases, beyond. “If there’s something embarrassing on social media, there is that potential to go viral,” Dr. Ventimiglia says.

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What are some signs your child might be a victim of cyberbullying and how can you help combat this digital harassment? Read on for advice from this local pediatrician.

Signs of cyberbullying

Does your child want to avoid going to school, or is he or she starting to skip class? These may be signs that your child is being bullied, Dr. Ventimiglia notes.

Cyberbullying increases the risk of depression, anxiety, sleep issues and even substance use in the bullied child. Antisocial behaviors and withdrawal are among the other common signs to look for. In some cases, suicide is a consequence of this form of bullying.

If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, Dr. Ventimiglia suggests checking in with your child.

“Checking in really is the way to go – to find out what kind of messages they are seeing, sending and getting,” he says.

If you’re aware of what they are sending and receiving, you’ll have a better idea of what is going on with your child – and can ultimately step in, if needed.

Consult your child’s pediatrician, too, who can offer additional insight and advice for you and your child.

Combat cyberbullying

It’s important to establish a dialogue with your child about digital citizenship and being a positive presence on social media. Digital citizenship teaches children how to use technology appropriately – and it’s something you can help your child understand at home.

“Talk about how to be respectful online and how negative messages can really hurt people,” Dr. Ventimiglia says. “Encourage your child to be a good role model for others.”

If your child is being bullied online, Dr. Ventimiglia suggests documenting the abuse. Take a screenshot if possible, he says, and if it’s done through social media, report the behavior to the social media site.

Cut down the time your child spends on their smartphone or social media, too. Talk to him or her about putting the phone away for a little while, even if that makes him or her feel anxious about what might be being posted online during that “break” time. Tell your child that putting the phone down is “a great way to avoid the pain that’s going on,” Dr. Ventimiglia adds.

Talk about the experience with your child, and be there to listen and support him or her during this time.

For more information on Shelby Pediatric Associates and Child Lung Center, visit shelbypediatricassociates.com.

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