Today's adolescents are spending their formative years in a world far different than previous generations -- communication between young adults now takes place primarily online. Understanding the emotional development of adolescents requires knowledge of how traditional face-to-face interactions have been adapted for digital devices. Texting and social media networks provide fast and accessible opportunities for members of Generation Z (also known as Zoomers) to connect with one another, and have been used in many positive ways, including grassroots political activism and communities for marginalized groups.
Unfortunately, the more unsavory aspects of teen communication have also translated to digital mediums, chief among them bullying and alienation. Cyberbullying is a term used to describe harassment that takes place through online social networks. While the online networks themselves have not been shown to create new victims of harassment, they allow bullies to retain anonymity, avoid risks associated with face-to-face confrontation, and harass their victims around the clock instead of only during school hours. 59% of American teens experience some type of online abusive behavior, and the effects of this behavior are cause for great concern: victims have shown higher risk of self-harm as well as suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and attempts.
Cyberbullying is challenging to prevent because online networks are easily accessible for most adolescents, and cutting off access entirely would deprive them of needed social interaction with their peers. Traditional bullying occurs largely on school grounds and can be closely monitored by teachers and staff, but online harassment is much more difficult to track and can occur anywhere, at any time. As a result, parental support and intervention is a key tool to prevent cyberbullying and mitigate its effects.
Multiple studies have shown that warmth and care is more effective than restrictive parenting at preventing teens from becoming perpetrators or victims of cyberbullying. For many frustrated or desperate parents, taking away their kid's phone for a couple days may seem like the most effective option, but providing emotional support and making time and space to talk about online behavior can help teens open up about their digital interactions and give parents the information and mutual trust they need to help solve any problems that arise.
Cyberbullying is a relatively new phenomenon and the popularity of digital platforms changes quickly, so it's hard to reach definitive conclusions based on current research. But, as digital technologies continue to expand their influence on our lives, topics relating to online interaction will surely be studied in more detail in the future.