Preventing bullying is the duty of everyone involved at an institution, no matter who you are and what role you play at the school.
Many people experience, or have participated in, or have witnessed first hand how bad bullying at school can get. It is no longer a new fact to us that bullying behaviour stems from early childhood and the victims have to face the consequences their whole life.
Moreover, school bullying is a grave problem in Singapore. The rates of bullying here are alarmingly high. Statistics on school bullying in Singapore show that 1 in every 5 primary school students was a victim of bullying. Another study by the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirms that 15 year olds in Singapore experience more instances of bullying than their peers in 50 other countries, suggesting that Singapore has the 3rd highest rate of bullying globally.
It is a matter of great concern and urgency that we must contribute and join hands in our fight against bullying. Read further to know more about bullying and how to prevent it.
Definition of Bullying
Bullying refers to a behavior that a person or a group of persons engage in to purposefully cause harm or distress to another person, i.e, the victim, through intentional and hurtful actions. There are four characteristic traits of bullying behaviour:
Bullying is categorized by malicious intent of the bully
Imbalance of power; the bully is generally the one holding power and the victim tends to be a person who is weak, either in terms of physical strength or social support/popularity, etc.
Repeatedness of the bullying behaviour; bullying takes place in patterns of repeated hurtful actions that harm the victim
Bullying causes distress to the victims. Being bullied can invoke feelings of helplessness, humiliation, depression, and may have a long-lasting impact on a child’s life.
Types of Bullying
The types of bullying that can take place in schools in Singapore are as follows:
Perpetrators of bullying use tactics of name-calling, abusive words, accusational and mean statements to claim power and control over a vulnerable target. The targets are generally children with special needs, or new students at the school, etc.
They try to belittle, demean, or hurt the victim and thus aim to insult them based on their appearance, conduct, or behave. Verbal bullying can be very difficult to identify as bullies often know how to please the authority figures and make it apparent that they do not indulge in bullying behaviour, while most of the verbal bullying occurs behind the teachers’ and parents’ backs.
This is a very harmful type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by authority figures at school and at home. It involves sabotaging the social standing of a victim by the means of manipulation, spreading false rumours and breaking confidences. Girls between the ages of 9 to 14 tend to use this form of bullying more than the boys of the same age. The goal of the bully behind this behaviour is to upgrade their own social status by degrading someone else’s.
When a person uses their devices and access the internet for the purpose of hurting, harassing, embarrassing, or threatening another person, it is called cyberbullying. This kind of bullying is common among younger children, as well as adolescents. It is an invasive and a long-term kind of bullying in which the bullies tend to enjoy the fact that it’s relatively easier for them to not get caught. This kind of bullying can pester the child at all times, 24/7 as they cannot exit the situation where it is happening because it is not a physical place. The consequences of such bullying can be very devastating for the target.
This kind of bullying involves repeated hurtful, humiliating and invasive actions that target a person sexually. Sexual bullying involves name-calling, uninvited physical contact, vulgar gestures, crude comments, sexual propositioning, and spreading pornographic media. Often, in secondary schools among adolescents, sexting can lead to sexual bullying as well. Slut shaming is a type of sexual bullying, too, where people call girls several humiliating names and make insulting comments on their appearance and body. Sexual bullying can also lead to sexual assault.
Causes of Bullying
There are various causes of bullying which might happen to any student irrespective of their sex, religion, race or socioeconomic status even though at first glance these might seem the only criterion. Among several factors that lead to bullying the reasons that are the most common are – differences in sexual orientation, religious beliefs, physical appearance and social status.
Often bullying comes as a response, from students who have higher self-confidence, to counter their feeling of being threatened in any way due to lack of empathy or compassion towards others. Some students take it as a method to cope with their own experiences of abuse and or neglect at home, fueled by their anger and despair while some just want to be perceived as brave or confident.
To summarize, these are the most common factors that cause bullying or at least set the environment for it:
Bullying is majorly infectious; meaning that people who bully others are often victims of bullying themselves.
Sometimes the cause can be as simple as envy, and the resulting frustration caused by the feeling of inferiority.
Using bullying as a medium to seek attention or acknowledgement via shows of belligerence towards others.
How To Prevent Bullying At School
School bullying, as you’ve read so far, is an alarming concern in Singapore and needs to be addressed by all of us. It can have serious consequences and impacts a child’s learning, development, and the negative long-term effects can pester them for a lifetime. It is thus imperative that we join hands in our fight against bullying. Following are some tips to prevent school bullying:
Parents Should Educate The Child About Bullying At Home
It is important for parents to have a talk with the child as early as possible. Parents must make sure that their child understands what bullying is. The conversation can begin in a manner which talks about good and healthy friendships, and differentiating healthy friendships from those that aren’t healthy. It is also important for the parents to talk to their kids everyday about their day at school, and be updated about their social lives, just so they are aware of everything.
Identifying Warning Signs
Children generally don’t tell their parents, teachers or anyone else when they are being bullied as it invokes feelings of embarrassment and shame. So, try to recognize the signs whenever you feel they are present. A child might be being bullied at school if they:
Try to avoid school and school’s activities
Aren’t showing the same performance in academics as they were earlier; grades drop
Show change in hygiene habits
Have headaches, stomach aches, illnesses
Show change in eating habits
Are being suddenly moody and temperamental
Show changes in personality traits
Teachers Must Reward Positive Behaviour At School
Most teachers try to punish negative behaviour as it’s easy to point out and it is the norm to do so. And they very well should. However, do teachers reward positive behaviour when they notice it? Positive reinforcement is the key to better behaviour in the classroom and otherwise. It helps condition the child for being good, at the same time, no negative associations are formed that may break the trust of the child. It is also important to never humiliate the child in the name of punishment. Reprimanding publicly is a strict no-no. It’s best to use one-on-one feedback.
Teachers Must Have Open Communication With Students
When teachers have an open communication with the students, students feel that they can trust that person and talk about their problems including bullying. Following are a few pointers to keep in mind for open communication in the classroom:
Listen empathically and let the students know that they’re being listened to.
Be mindful of your non verbal cues, i.e, body language and send a strong message by communicating using both your nonverbal and verbal cues.
Make sure a proper reporting system is set up, so that all kinds of incidents can be tracked.
Make sure that the parents always stay in the loop and are aware of everything.
Many of us face bullies in our schooling and even during our university lives. In such institutions, anti-ragging and anti-bullying societies, etc. do provide a lot of support. Sadly, one may even have to go through this in their work-life as well. In fact, it is a common occurrence.
Workplace bullying is a pattern of repeated hurtful targeted actions and behaviours that physically or emotionally harms the victim. It can be directed at a single person or a group of people. This kind of bullying can be verbal or non-verbal in nature and can include psychological or physical abuse and humiliation. It can also be sexual abuse which can include uninvited physical contact, sexually coloured remarks, and showing obscene images to a coworker.
In the times of covid when most employees are working from home, workplace bullying can occur on digital platforms as well. A co-worker might post malicious content targeting a colleague or compromising images of someone that may spread falsehoods and misinformation about them. This can be more dangerous and harmful than the kind of bullying that takes place at the workplace as such information can be extremely difficult or entirely impossible to remove once circulated on the internet.
How to Identify Workplace Bullying
Bullying can be subtle or blatant. Blatant kinds of bullying may involve verbally abusing and even physical abuse such as pushing or shoving an employee. This kind of bullying is simpler to identify. However, it can be difficult to tell subtle bullying apart from something like criticism or something that may seem targeted, but isn’t. In most cases, it is best to ask the coworkers and consider their perspective of what’s happening. If a majority of them call it bullying, then it quite possibly is so.
Types Of Workplace Bullying
The categories of tactics that a perpetrator may use can be broadly classified into a few categories. The first type is verbal bullying which includes mockery, abusive language, gossip, spreading rumors, jokes, humiliation, etc. Then, intimidation also takes place at the workplace and can take shape in many vicious forms. These are; giving threats, social exclusion, spying and stalking, etc. Moreover, victimizers could also create problems for you related to the work performance. This could include spreading misinformation, wrongful blames, taking the credit for your effort, work sabotaging, etc. Retaliatory actions also count as workplace bullying. Examples are, exclusion, refused promotions for no reason, accusations of lying, etc. Institutional bullying is another complicated way that bullying takes place. It is when the organization itself doesn’t support you when you’re being bullied, is aware of what’s happening and in fact, encourages this kind of behaviour.
How Bullying Affects Your Health
The negative impact that bullying has on your health becomes quite impossible to ignore in most cases. It can lead to physical, mental and emotional complications that last long even after the bullying has stopped or even when you have distanced yourself from the people, situations and environment where you get bullied. Following is the impact of bullying on your health:
Impact of Bullying on Physical Health:
This includes digestive problems due to the anxiety and stress involved;
High blood pressure,
Risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes,
Somatic symptoms such as headaches and decreased appetite,
Problems with sleep such as insomnia and parasomnia &,
Impact of Bullying on Mental Health:
Worrying and stressing over work persistently,
Wanting to stay home and dreading the work place as negative associations form with the workplace environment,
Craving time off constantly so as to recover and recharge
Increased risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders
Intrusive and suicidal thoughts
Self-doubt, and lack of self confidence
Causes of Workplace Bullying
There are two main potential causes of workplace bullying, specifically in Singapore. According to a survey conducted in 2016 by Roffey Park confirms that Singaporeans spend much more time at work than the workers of Hong Kong and China do. This means that most workers in Singapore have long work hours.
Moreover, this survey also showed that Singapore workers feel increasingly stressed over the 6 months after which the survey was conducted.
Both the above factors of feeling increasingly stressed and having to work for long hours contribute to a high possibility of conflict, havoc, and tensions among the employees at the workplace.
How To Handle Workplace Bullying
When you see yourself being in a situation where you suspect you are being bullied, or are entirely sure you’re being harassed and/or bullied at the workplace, there are a few steps that you can take to make sure you best deal with the situation, all things considered. Even when no one may believe you or support you, you must seek help elsewhere and take a while to remind yourself that what’s happening to you is not your fault.
Following are the steps that you can take to help yourself out in such a situation:
Talk about it as soon as possible. It is imperative that you stand your ground firmly and try to speak up to the one bullying you, if the situation is still in the early stages and hasn’t become complicated yet. Speak up right at the moment when you feel you are being mistreated in the slightest. You could also try to explain to them the problem you’re facing.
Document the bullying and/or harassment, save physical evidence. It is important that you keep a track of everything that you feel was intended to hurt you. Document every scenario and note the date, time and the persons who were there as witnesses. At the same time, keep all the notes that they used to threaten you, if any, and all the documents that can prove that you were being bullied.
Record your performance. Keep a track of your performance so that if anyone who overly criticized you and your work with ill intentions can be proved wrong in future. Collect all the documents that show qualifiable results of any projects that you’ve worked on, and all emails that include positive feedback from any colleague, manager, supervisor, stakeholder or the client themselves.
Talk to someone superior to you, or the HR. Once you have all the evidence and feel like you can talk to someone, then approach a high ranking employee or an HR about what you’re facing. The documentation would be of much help at this stage.
5. Seek legal guidance, look for a new job, and reach out for help from a mental health professional to recover and heal. At the end of the day, your well being is of prime importance and even if you receive a smaller paycheck at some other organization, you must treat your health as your top priority. Seeking help in the form of counselling and therapy is also important as you may be having many anxiety reactions and stress-related problems after the atrocities you’ve gone through at the workplace.
Bullying is when a person or a group of persons repeatedly try to cause distress or anguish in another person’s life through intentional and hurtful actions. Being bullied can invoke feelings of helplessness, humiliation, depression, and may have a long-lasting impact on a child’s life. It usually occurs due to a power imbalance in which a person assumes power over someone weaker, younger or more vulnerable than the bully, and tries to dominate them into doing something they do not want to. It can include physically attacking someone, scaring them with threats, spreading rumors about them, and verbally insulting them repeatedly. Most bullying instances occur in school, but it can take place anywhere – from your sports team meetings to dance classes.
Verbal bullying refers to intentionally hurting another person by making mean, hurtful comments about them, which makes the victim feel unhappy with themselves. This can include the following :
Name-calling: Children may often tease one another with insulting names or labels to humiliate them. When it becomes persistent, name-calling may affect the well being of the victim and also impact their own identity as they start to doubt themselves.
Insulting: Bullies make remarks that are demeaning and cause anguish for the victim. They verbally abuse them, which has a direct bearing on their mental health. These insults can have a long-lasting impact on the self-esteem of the victim.
Physical bullying is one of the most popular forms of bullying. This occurs when perpetrators use physical force to show dominance over their targets. It includes causing physical harm to a person by engaging in fights with them, taking their things and breaking them, hitting or punching them without cause, trying to harass them through pushes and physical nudges, etc.
When a person uses the internet or technology to insult, threaten, or embarrass another person with an intention to demean or hurt their self-esteem, it is referred to as cyberbullying. This has become a growing issue among teenagers. It involves posting hurtful things about someone on social media, sending demeaning messages, publishing a photo or a video without taking permission, and even threatening someone.
Any sort of bullying can adversely impact the victim’s mental health and lower their self-esteem. Victims may also experience negative social, emotional and academic issues which can lead to self-doubt, well into their adulthood.
Causes of bullying
To fully understand the meaning of bullying, it is important to first note the factors that make a bully. Bullies attack weaknesses – it is the only way they know to get what they want. They don’t realize that their attacks can be wrong and hurtful. This might have to do with them lacking empathy, needing attention, or simply wanting to control others’ lives. It may also take place when they are themselves being bullied by someone else and thus, look for gaining dominance over someone else’s life so that they can displace their feelings of helplessness. One of the primary reasons for bullying is power dynamics. The bully wants to assert their power to subjugate the victim. Generally, the bully asserts their power through repetition, which creates fear in the victim. Bullies can also be people in an influential position, especially in certain aspects, where they can abuse their power or influence to harm the victim.
How to stop bullying and deal with a bully?
Those who bully can only be as powerful as we let them be. If you’re getting bullied, the following steps can be helpful for you:
Let someone know:
Effects of bullying can directly impact your mental health and lead to you feeling dejected. It is essential that you contact the people you trust and let them know about the problems you are facing. They can empower you to face your bully and stand up to them.
When you’re confident with your own self, no matter what the other person says, it will not affect you. Bullies tend to dominate those they think are ‘supposedly’ weaker than them, making it justifiable for them to control your lives. So stand up tall and do not let them affect how you feel about yourself.
Do not engage in harmful or demeaning conversations with the bully. Hitting them back or insulting them in return would do more harm than good. They feed on your fear and insecurities, as it makes them feel powerful. They do not want to engage in effective communication and would see this as an opportunity to hurt and dominate you even more.
Creating a circle of care is essential in schools in which everybody can talk about their feelings without being judged. Bullies are often those who have been bullied themselves. So, as important as it is for the victim to seek help, it is also necessary for the bullies to seek help and make sense of their feelings.
Tips for parents if their child is getting bullied at school
It is essential for the parents to sit down with their child and engage in a dialogue with them if they observe warning signs of them getting bullied or get to know about it. Here are some tips you can follow while dealing with your child :
Remaining calm is imperative as you getting angry or upset might make your child regret sharing the incident with you or feeling that it’s their fault.
Your first response should be to calm your child down, make them feel safe, and ask them to tell you about how they feel. Children tend to feel ashamed or embarrassed as they think they’re getting bullied because they are wrong or weak. Understand them with compassion and let them know that it is not their fault, and they are not the ones who should be ashamed. Take steps to communicate effectively what is meant by bullying and what steps they can take to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
Bullying at times can leave a deep, scarring impact on a child’s life. It becomes tough to make sense of a child’s feelings, and bullying can lead to mental health problems such as depression. It can also have a long-lasting impact on the future of your child. Therefore, you must reach out and seek help from someone who can assist in making them feel better.
Frequently Asked Questions on Bullying:
Q. What are the signs of being bullied?
There are certain signs which might indicate that your child is being bullied. Not wanting to go to school, feeling unhappy, having low self-esteem, being physically hurt (indicated by body marks), and being anxious are some of the signs that a victim of bullying often displays.
Q.Why am I being bullied?
Bullies do not need a reason to bully anybody. They try to dominate and control other people’s lives. If someone bullies you, it is not your fault, and you should not blame yourself.
Q. What can I do if I notice someone getting bullied?
Talk to the victim and let them know that they can trust you and share their feelings with you. You can also seek help from adults or counsellors who will be able to handle the situation with maturity and expertise.
Q. When should I seek counselling for bullying?
If you have been bullied and have not fully recovered from it, you should seek counselling. Your counsellor can help you make sense of your feelings and help you come out of it stronger.
As the world increasingly adopts the internet, we are experiencing a shift in the nature of our interactions. The internet, despite all its positives, enables a certain sense of empowered anonymity. This has led to the advent of cyberbullying, a type of bullying carried out through technology to harass, embarrass, or hurt someone. Cyberbullying can take place through messaging platforms, social media, and even streaming platforms. It can manifest in the following different ways :
1. People uploading your pictures without your permission.
2. Receiving threats or hurtful messages over the internet.
3. Spreading rumours about you on social media.
4. People creating your fake profiles without consent.
5. Being excluded from message threads that includes your mutual friends, being uninvited or removed from online groups that your friends are part of.
Statistics about Cyberbullying in Singapore
According to a CNA survey, commissioned by Talking Point in 2018, 3 in 4 youngsters have been victims of cyberbullying in Singapore. A more worrying fact about this cyberbullying statistics is that only 3% of those surveyed had informed their parents. Most victims think of cyberbullying as an inevitable part of their online presence and do not wish to share this side with their parents, owing to a sense of being shamed or victimized.
Consequences of Cyberbullying
Like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can cause anger and emotional distress, thereby, deeply affecting the mental well-being of the victim. It can have long-lasting effects on a person’s life. The following are some of the adverse effects of cyberbullying.
Constantly being bullied about one’s looks or behavior can lead to low levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. They start believing that they are not good enough.
After being exposed to cyberbullying, the victims feel extremely vulnerable. The anonymity of the bullies and the very fact that they can hurt or embarrass them at any time, and that they have no control over it makes them feel powerless.
Refusal to go to school or socialize:
Victims of cyberbullying often feel ashamed to step out of their homes and face people due to the fear of embarrassment and being ostracized by their peers.
How to deal with a cyberbully?
Dealing with cyberbullying can be a challenge owing to its public and uncontrollable nature.
The anonymity of the bullies at times also prove to be a major hindrance. But the most important thing to overcome it, is how you choose to deal with it.
a) It is not your fault
When we become victims of any form of bullying, we tend to blame ourselves. We are made to feel ashamed and start believing that all of this is our fault. But no matter what the bully tells you, you are not the one at fault here.
b) Never Respond
No matter how angry or sad you feel, do not reply to any of the hurtful messages or posts written about you. The bullies want to provoke you to be affected by it, and by doing that, you are giving them the power to dictate how you feel. Replying with a vengeance would only make the matter worse, and there would be no end to the chain of cyberbullying.
Immediately report the post or messages and block the person responsible for it. By reporting their actions, they will not be able to post further and hurt someone else.
d) Block the person
Cut all forms of communication with the bully by blocking them on all your social media accounts. In this way, they will not be able to bully you and affect you with mean comments.
e) Seek support
When faced with bullying, it is very important to have a network of people who you trust and those who can support you by boosting your morale and ensuring that it doesn’t get the better of you. You can talk with your friends, parents, teachers, or even a counsellor to help you deal with this and make you come out of it stronger. They might also be able to help you in finding ways on how to prevent cyberbullying.
Frequently Asked Questions on Cyberbullying:
Q. Why do people cyberbully others?
Cyberbullies usually are the ones who have been a victim of bullying themselves and have pent up anger and frustration. They want to feel powerful and control other people’s lives by dominating them, making mean comments, threatening them, etc. They believe that these actions can make them feel important.
Q. What should parents do if they find out that their child is being cyberbullied?
Children often do not share about bullying due to the fear of embarrassment. Therefore, it becomes important for the parents to talk about the ill effects of bullying and how their home is a safe space to talk about anything they want. There should be no judgment. They should also look for warning signs of cyberbullying such as the following :
Becomes distressed or sad when online or afterward.
A drop in academic grades
Refusal to go to school
Showing signs of anxiety and helplessness.
Q. Can adults be a victim of cyberbullying?
The anonymity offered by the internet can bring together trolls and haters across all ages. Adults are equally at the risk of being cyberbullied, if not more, than preteens (age 10-13) and teens (age 15-17). Adults can be attacked online based on their gender, ethnicity and age. While young adults at the age of 18-25 years face the highest level of cyberbullying, certain advanced age groups, as per studies, experience bullying online too: 26-35 years (around 24 percent), 46-55 years (around 13 percent), up to the 66+ age group (around 6.5 percent).
Q. How can adults survive cyberbullying?
Although cyberbullying is inevitable, even for grown ups, adults have the ability to handle such situations with maturity and tact. Even though we can’t control how others behave online, we can modify our own experiences and choose to ignore the negativity.
Flag inappropriate comment/content and never reshare
Limit your online sharing – not everything is meant to be documented online
Track your digital wellness and check-out of social media every once in a while
Q. Should I seek therapy for cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can be an extremely difficult thing to face on your own. If you feel overwhelmed and do not know how this will impact your mental health, seeking help from a counsellor might be a good idea.
Q. What are some steps I can take to prevent cyberbullying?
Protecting your passwords, setting up your privacy controls, and logging out after using public computers are steps that can help you prevent cyberbullying.
If you follow my work, then you know that, although I’m completely addicted to my cell phone and to Facebook (there, I said it), I’m extremely concerned about modern technologies such as social media and the effects that such technologies are having on our world.
As an evolutionary psychologist, or as someone who looks at questions of human behavior in terms of principles of evolution, I’m particularly concerned about what we call evolutionary mismatch as it relates to social media. Evolutionary mismatch exists when something in the modern environment of an organism is mismatched from the ancestral conditions that surrounded the evolution of that organism.
In so many ways, social media platforms, such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, are mismatched from the kinds of communication platforms that existed for the lion’s share of human evolutionary history. For more than 99% of our evolutionary history, face-to-face communication with individuals whom you knew well was pretty much it. Social media has changed all that—and, as you’ll see below, not necessarily for the better.
Using this evolutionary mismatch framework, the list below focuses on adverse consequences of cellphone technology and social media in our modern worlds.
10 Ways That Life Is Now Worse Because of Social Media
People can be nasty behind screens. When our identities are downplayed or hidden, there is less motivation to be kind to others. And all the research in the field of social psychology on this point is clear: When people are deindividuated, they are way more likely to be nasty to others (see Zimbardo, 2007). Modern-day social media includes more deindividuated communication than has ever existed in the history of the human species.
Social media creates unhealthy social echo chambers. The westernized world is more polarized than ever these days. This is not just lip service—solid research on political polarization has shown that this is truly the case. Things are getting more polarized with time (see Motyl, 2018). Social media fuels this. If you identify as liberal, you likely belong to a broad array of liberal-focused Facebook groups that provide extraordinary levels of social validation for your beliefs. And if you consider yourself conservative, you likely belong to a host of social media groups that validate and amplify your beliefs. Social media has the capacity to create large-scale echo chambers, adding, unwittingly, to the growing political polarization that is tearing our world apart as I type.
Social media is not for the impulsive at heart. Think about all the impulsive tweets or social media posts that have led people to get into all kinds of hot water. In 2018, Rosanne Barr put out a highly questionable (and impulsive) middle-of-the-night tweet that got her into such hot water that her TV series got canceled. And if you follow the news, you know that this is not an isolated incident. Indeed, these days people are regularly getting into hot water—at work, with family, with friends—as a result of impulsive social media behavior. Under ancestral conditions, people were not able to broadcast any thought they had at any time to the entire world. Things on this front have changed. And not necessarily for the better.
Infidelity rates have increased due to social media. While cellphones may help us communicate and share more regularly with our romantic partners, and, thus, may have some relationship benefits, current research shows that social media is playing a huge role in increasing the prevalence of infidelity, which is made increasingly easier and more tempting than ever thanks to social media. For an eye-opening expose of this issue, check out this report put out by the National Marriage Project (summarized in this article in The National Review by the study authors Betsy VanDenBerghe, Jeffrey P. Dew, and W. Bradford Wilcox). From an evolutionary perspective, infidelity is a major threat to the welfare of any intimate relationship (see Guitar et al., 2016). And social media platforms and cell-phone technology have increased this threat to relationships everywhere—significantly.
Social media makes bullying easier. The literature on how social media has affected bullying is staggering. In a recent study of this issue conducted by the Pew Research Center, a large majority of U.S. teens have reported that they have, at some point or another, been the victims of cyberbullying. Given the ease with which people can put thoughts and ideas out there using social media, putting this technology in the hands of teenagers seems, when you think about it, concerning at the very least. Unfortunately, cyberbullying often leads to issues of emotional and mental health and has, in multiple cases, played a substantial role in suicides (such as the case of 13-year-old Ryan Halligan of Essex Junction. VT, who was repeatedly and incessantly sent homophobic messages by other teens via social media).
Social media creates permanent records—of just about everything. Under ancestral conditions, you could learn from your mistakes and simply move on. These days, mistakes are often recorded. In fact, just about everything seems to be recorded these days—and then blasted out on social media. When a fight breaks out in a school these days, witnesses famously bust out their phones and start streaming the action instead of helping out. And these videos then become permanent records of ugly situations that would be hard enough to forget and move past in the first place. Modern technologies give new meaning to the phrase “there is no escaping your past.”
Cellphones are truly addicting. Think about the number of psychological reinforcers found on social media. People can make social connections. They can corm romantic or even sexual relationships. They can receive excessive and instant praise and validation for all sorts of things. And more. It’s no wonder that research on the topic of cellphone addiction essentially shows that we’re pretty much all crackheads when it comes to our cellphones and social media (see Shoukat, 2019).
The natural world is suddenly less interesting than the virtual world is. When our kids were younger, my wife and I would try to take them out hiking with some regularity. They weren’t always into it. Kids aren’t as into nature these days as they used to be, and for understandable reasons. The virtual worlds found on cellphones and on other devices is simply dazzling in terms of reinforcing stimuli. And this is too bad because all the research on nature experiences suggests that being in nature is a foundational and necessary part of the human experience (see Wilson, 1984).
Social estrangements are made too easy on social media. Recent research from our lab has found that social estrangements, which exist when people define someone else as persona non grata (or “dead to them”), wreak havoc on people’s emotional and social worlds (see Geher et al., 2019). Simply, the more estrangements someone reports having, the more social and emotional difficulties that person is likely to encounter. Social media seems to be a breeding ground for social estrangements. All platforms have various ways to “hide,” “unfriend,” “unfollow,” and “block” others. Interestingly, these features are regularly used by mature adults, as well as teens. Just as social media makes all kinds of social interactions more accessible, the cutoff is now a more accessible option than has ever been the case. On one hand, it’s probably good to cut toxic people out of one’s life. But on the other hand, social media is likely increasing the degree to which people are exercising this option, perhaps leading people to, on average, have more estrangements than would have been the case years ago.
People can deceive in the domain of mating like never before. Social media has had ubiquitous effects in the realm of mating. And in this realm, where self-presentation is foundational, deception and exaggeration are more possible than has ever been the case. Under ancestral conditions, people met potential mates in-person, seeing them as they actually are and listening to spontaneous and largely unprepared introductions. These days, you can find the best photo of yourself that has ever been taken. And then use some filter from Snapchat to make yourself look even better. You can write your introduction for your dating profile over a number of days, editing it carefully and asking for input from friends. And, well heck, you can downright lie about yourself to make yourself appear as better than you actually are (and yes, this has been known to happen!). While self-enhancing self-presentation has probably always been an issue in the mating domain for humans, modern-day social media and related technologies bring the ability to deceive in a mating context to an entirely new level.
Bottom line: While social media technologies have led to all kinds of positive outcomes, such as families being reunited or friends coming together to build prosocial organizations across geographical boundaries, when it comes to the effects on our modern worlds, social media has a dark side—a very dark side. In short, social media has the capacity to bring out the worst in humans, such as bullying, betrayal, hate, and estrangement. And more.
When it comes to technological evolution, there seems to be only one direction. There truly is no stopping “progress.” Hopefully, as we move forward into this new world, people take the time to understand our evolved nature and, along the way, develop methods to ameliorate the adverse effects of social media on the human experience.