COLORADO SPRINGS — Whether for school or for play, kids are spending more time online these days than ever before.
“We find that kids are spending anywhere from 8 to 12 hours per day online and now we’re back in school online so that has just doubled,” said Tom Caughlan, Manager of Clinical Social Work and Behavioral Health for Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Springs.
With more time online that means more opportunities for bullies.
“53% of 11-year-olds have a smartphone and that goes up to 84% for teenagers,” said Caughlan.
Caughlan said the pandemic has led to an increase in reports of bullying, particularly cyberbullying, and he’s seen a rise in reports of suicidal ideation and attempts in Colorado Springs too.
“Here at Children’s Hospital, Colorado Springs our behavioral health department has seen a 39% increase just from August to September in our behavioral health patients,” he said. “Now we can’t say for sure if any of that is due to bullying or cyberbullying but it’s significant and it needs to be considered.”
Caughlan said it’s easy for bullies to hide behind the screen and parents need to be aware that the abuse can happen in any online space.
“Every single app, every single game that they use has a messaging component to it where kids can access this and that allows them to a lot of times anonymously verbally abuse or bully one another,” he said.
There are several warning signs that parents can look for in their child including changes in mood, isolation and tantrums when devices are taken away.
“As parents we’re often very unwilling to upset our children or take something away from our children but this is important,” he said. “This is a new era that we’re in and we didn’t spend 12 hours a day doing anything even ten years ago.”
Experts don’t necessarily agree on a set time limit for online activity but they do agree that what’s being done while online is important.
“What parents should be focused on is monitoring content and having talks with their kids about the addictive part of social media and that it does prey on some of their insecurities and help them understand what cyberbullying is and how to respond to it in an assertive way,” Caughlan explained.
If you think your child is the one doing the bullying, Caughlan said that needs to be addressed too.
“Bullying happens out of insecurity and again everyone in their childhood and teenage years feeling insecure, it can be a vicious cycle, and so helping kids understand why it happens, why they might not be feeling good about themselves and why they might be trying to extend that feeling to someone else,” he added.
Caughlan is hosting a free virtual talk for parents about bullying on Monday, Oct. 19, from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Bullying 101 and Prevention Tips: https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/parenting/parenting-articles/bullying-tips-prevention/
Roles in Bullying Prevention: https://www.childrenscolorado.org/doctors-and-departments/departments/psych/mental-health-professional-resources/primary-care-articles/pediatrician-role-bullying-prevention/
How to Help Teens Cope During the Pandemic: https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/parenting/parenting-articles/teen-tips-coronavirus/