Digital Self Harm A Rising Concern: What To Do When Teens Self Cyberbully?

Last Update on September 15, 2021 : Published on September 15, 2021
Digital Self Harm A Rising Concern

Many of us, whether they be adults or teens, spend the majority of our time online rather than offline. Considering the current pandemic, more and more teens are spending their time staying connected with their friends and peers digitally.

Of course, this kind of behavior makes teens more vulnerable to cyberstalking and cyberbullying. Imagine a scenario where you come across a comment on your teen’s social media saying, “You look so fat!” or “You are ugly!” What would your first thought be?

“My child is being bullied”, right? You may choose to confront your teen about this and while there is a good chance they may deny this, there is also a chance that they may confess to being the one who wrote the comment.

Yes, I know it sounds far-fetched but in recent studies, it was found that self cyberbullying or digital self-harm is a growing concern among teens.

In this blog, I’ll be helping you understand what is digital self-harm or self cyberbullying, its effects on teens, and what to do when teens self cyberbully.

What Is Digital Self-Harm?

Digital self-harm suggests the anonymous posting of negative comments about oneself online or on social media using a ghost account or a pseudonym. This kind of negative self comments focuses more on emotional bullying than physical bullying.

In a study by the Journal Of Adolescent Health, it was found that 6% of teens between the age of 12 and 17 post negative comments about themselves online. The study also found that males were more likely to engage in self cyber bullying than females; 7% and 5% respectively.

According to the same study, the causes of self cyberbullying were noted as:

  • Sexual orientation
  • Bullying in school
  • Cyberbullying
  • Substance use
  • Depression

Digital self-harm, in some cases, can be an action for garnering attention and appreciation. However, more often than not, the reason why teens self cyberbully is more serious than just wanting others’ attention.

Often, self cyberbullying is a defense mechanism or a coping technique for psychological distress. Instances such as not being able to find their place in the social circle or losing friendships can lead a teen to develop feelings of disappointment, anger, and hopelessness. Digital self-harm provides them with a way to address this pain without actually exposing themselves.

Experts say that teens who have been bullied are more likely to engage in self cyberbullying than others. Especially teens belonging to marginalized communities and LBGTQ+ communities are also at a larger risk of self cyberbullying.

Psychologists believe that this kind of digital self-harm has a connection between negative self-narratives and other mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

Unlike physical self-harm, digital self-harm does not leave visible scars so it can be easily dismissed or ignored by parents and teachers. However, it is not less serious than physical self-harm.

Why Do Teens Engage In Digital Self-Harm?

There is no single cause or explanation for why teens lean towards digital self-harm but some of the common reasons can be:

  • To get attention from others
  • To “test” their friends
  • To see if the same negative opinion is shared by others
  • To self-deprecate
  • To feel validated by seeing how negative opinion is reflected
  • To manage emotional stress
  • To self-punish
  • To resist feeling disassociation
  • To reduce boredom

Digital self-harm or self cyberbullying is a relatively new concept in the world of psychology but it’s no less serious than other mental health concerns. Self-harm can be a teen’s coping mechanism, one they prefer using to deal with their negative feelings.

What To Do To Help Your Teen?

Once you’ve identified your teen’s self harassment, self cyberbullying behavior, the next steps you take can be crucial. Having a parent’s support can mean a lot to a teen struggling with finding their place in the world.

Having an open line of communication with your teen to discuss painful emotions and share experiences of bullying can help prevent digital self-harm. Other than communication, it’s imperative as teachers and parents that you understand and educate yourself about digital self-harm.

Notice your child’s behavior. Have they become more aggressive than before? Are they losing interest in their once enjoyable activities? Has their academic performance been dropping? Have they become more anxious? Or are they spending more time online than offline?

Other things you can do can be:

1. Monitor Their Social Media

With a teen, monitoring social media can be challenging. On one hand, giving teens their independence is necessary for them to build connections with others. If a parent constantly monitors their child’s activity online, they might create ghost accounts just to avoid the parents’ eyes. On the other hand, teens are more likely to make careless mistakes that may negatively impact their lives.

Rather than investigating your teen’s social media accounts, talk to them. If you see a negative comment or content on your teen’s profile, ask them about it. Give them the chance to open up with you. Forcing them to tell you or checking in with their social accounts behind their backs will not accomplish anything.

2. Ask Questions

Keep in mind that some teens engage in this kind of behavior just out of curiosity and while it may not be a cry for help, it can still leave a lasting impression on their psyche. If your teen is engaging in self cyberbullying, then you must stay calm.

First, find out the reasons why your teen is doing what they are doing. Ask questions and keep them open-ended. When your child responds, make sure you avoid criticism and judgment at all costs.

3. Help Them With Their Support System

In times where online support and connectivity are important, it is quite common for teens to feel isolated and depressed when they can’t connect with their friends and peers face-to-face. Having a support system to cope with such feelings is important. Not only it gives the teen a feeling of belonging and community but it also allows them to share their feelings with others.

As a parent, help your child build their support system. Be it school counselors, teachers, friends, or other trusted people. People they can turn to in times of need.

4. Seek Professional Help

Self-harm of any kind – emotional or physical – can be linked with suicidal ideation. While not all self-harm may be because of depression, it can be a sign of struggling with other mental health conditions. Psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical-behavioral therapy, or psychodynamic therapy can help.

A professional mental health counselor can help your teen understand their emotions, potential triggers, and help them come up with adaptive and healthy coping skills to use.

Common skills the above-mentioned therapy can include:

  • Identifying the source of the problem
  • Monitoring emotions
  • Problem-solving
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Improving relationship skills
  • Managing stress

Writer’s Thoughts

Digital self-harm or self cyberbullying is a growing concern, especially during times where online connectivity is everything. However, social media addiction can also be one of the most serious consequences of spending too much time online. As parents, siblings, and teachers, we need to make sure the teens in our lives balance their time online and offline.

If you see any signs of your teen engaging in emotional self-harm, take out the time to talk to them and ask questions to understand the cause of their behavior. Once you know the signs, it will become easier for you to get the right help.

Seek professional help when and if necessary – not only for your teen. If you’re struggling with understanding your teen’s struggles, you can connect with a mental health professional here.

For emergency situations, you can connect with these helpline numbers:

 Also know that you can write to us at I hope this article on understanding digital self-harm helps you and your teen. Do let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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