In Expert Interviews

John Birchfield on Social Media CyberBullying

social media cyberbullying

Below is a transcript of the interview on Social Media CyberBullying:

Dr.John Birchfield: My name is John Birchfield. I have my doctorate degree in psychology. I have been doing counseling in the Phoenix, Arizona Area for the last 25 years. I have my own private practice where I see clients mostly through insurance and most of my clients are…They vary from, I would say, 12 to 50 and about 50% male and 50% female.

Ciaran Connolly: Excellent. So, you see a lot of… a wide range of people and from those ages. So, that’s great for us today and I guess we wanted to talk to you about bullying in particular and I guess what you see in your own practice and from your own experience and do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was maybe 10 years ago?

JB:  Well, it’s kind of hard to tell. We definitely hear more about it. It’s because we have the communication and the social media and everything is instant. So, maybe we are hearing more about it but it seems like it’s really a problem here in America. It’s a big problem.

Not so much…like it’s not right in your face with the adults but it’s really in your face with the kids. As the kids are ruder, they are more willing to be mean to each other and they are meaner on the social media because they don’t have to be there with the person and see their response or they tend to do it without any reaction, immediate reaction. It’s kind of a chicken way of bullying.

CC: And you actually believe it is easier then to bully on social media and on the internet that it is face to face?

JB: Oh, yes because they don’t have to worry about the reaction and they can say almost anything they want to say but the…in the adult life, we are more careful because we know that there could be a consequence. You know, we could get it worse, we could lose our job, if we do it in a restaurant, we could be asked to leave.

There are different things like that. The kids, they just don’t see the immediate reaction and they just say whatever they want.

CC: And do you see a big difference in how bullying is happening today? For example, we do have the internet and mobile phones and technology. Are people using it a lot to bully compared to the old traditional ways of name calling?

JB: Well, in the schools because there are so many rules, you know and you can get in trouble and get kicked out of the school for so many things now. Everybody is so careful to do it not do it right out in public at the school but when they get home, they say things to each other that are extremely mean.

I have clients, young people, that I read their stuff that people sent to them and they just said things that I would have never said in person to anybody and they just turn right up and say it, you know, “You should kill yourself. You should never come back to school. You are a horrible person. We don’t want you around. If you come back to school, we are going to push you, we are going to trip you, we are going to call you names.” I mean, they intimidate one another through the media, the social media more so than they do individually.

CC: And do you think there a lot of media coverage from newspapers and TVs and even us talking now? There is a lot of coverage on bullying and cyber bullying at the moment. Do you think this is helping improve things or could it be a bad thing as well?

JB:  No, I don’t think it has improved anything at all. I think it’s encouraging more kids to do it and you know, not only do kids do this; adults try to put down other adults through social media. Personally, I think that social media has become a way…like Facebook and things like this, has become a way of destroying people, hurting people, making it easier for us to do the things that we would normally be guarding ourselves and not doing because we have been taught to be polite, try not to be rude. Now without any kind of guards or any kind of protection, people are just using the social media to do those things that they would have never done without being able to hide behind a keyboard.

CC: Of course and these are things obviously the inventors of social networks and the websites never dreamed of helping, I’m sure and would never want but you even see adults bullying as well. So, it’s not just kids who are involved and caught up on cyber bullying.

JB: Oh, yes and in my counseling, we are actually seeing more breakups and more divorces caused by the social media because somebody will text or Facebook someone and then the partner reads it and says “Who is this person?” and they will go “I haven’t talked to them in forever” and they won’t believe them and then it sparks these non-trusting relationships.

I have actually an increase in the last 2 years of more couples having problems because of Facebook and texting than ever. I mean, it is just crazy how much that increased.

CC: Amazing. So, I guess as more and more people use the social networks, there seems to be more and more problems. So, in your own practice and your own experience, have you seen severe cases, and I guess consequences, of bullying and cyber bullying?

JB: I have a client that… when a young person has self-esteem issues and they are already having problems with school and then emotionally they are very immature. When before the social media thing, they would go home and they would be with their family but now when they leave school and that stuff has happened at school, not only does it happen at school. As soon as they get home, if they sit on their Facebook or their phone, people are saying rude…these very rude kids are saying horrible things to them and so not only at school. They have it at home. They can’t get away from it and it just multiplies and I have seen so many kids with a depression level increase because they can’t get away from the ridicule, the putting down.

The self-esteem of these kids, they never have a chance to have it built up. You know, because they are not sitting around talking to their parents anymore. They are in their bedroom playing around with these media and there is no opportunity for them to hear good things. They are hearing continually bad things.

CC: And what would be the best advice to give to someone who is being bullied?

JB:  Well, the first thing is, if I found out about it, I ask the parents as many times, of course, and sometimes they still don’t do it, that I ask them to get rid of the Facebook and get rid of the phones to only make phone calls so they can’t have those tweets and I try to get rid of the source that is causing the pain.

And, see then what we can do to build their self-esteem, get them back to believe in themselves and them to the point where they are strong enough so that they could be able to read something that wouldn’t influence them but when you are not well, you are emotionally unstable, anything that is being said, you are going to believe it because you are not well enough to fight it off before he is done by it. So, we have to take away the source that is hurting and destroying it.

CC: And do you believe that these people who are being bullied could face long term effects?

JB: The research shows that, if you are bullied as a kid then this self-esteem issue will follow you into the adult world. The anxiety that you developed as a kid will follow you into your adult world and your depression level will be higher as an adult because of the things that you went through as a kid. So, yes. If no one takes care of it while they are young, as an adult they will have anxiety and depression.

CC: So, and it also could impact relationships and working life and I guess everything through their life if they are carrying this through to adulthood and for years after the bullying has happened. Do you think that I guess, you think we can beat bullying? Do you think we have a long way to go then since the internet and cyber bullying has given it a new platform and a new way to spread more easily?

JB: Like anything, the only way that thing changes is when people get tired of it. We stopped smoking in buildings because people got tired of it and we made laws. You know, you put seatbelts on now because people wanted the laws. When people get tired of what the media is like and what it is doing to their children, they’ll demand stricter rules and more guarding of the media.

We have what we want. The reason we see so many killings and violence and on the games that these kids watch, the movies that they watch is because we want it. When we get to the point where we don’t want it and we see that it is no longer benefiting us or satisfying a need that we have, it will stop. Things never stop until we are tired of it and we want it to change.

CC: Very interesting, interesting perspective and so we, as a community of people and adults and parents, need a demand of our government and a demand of these businesses that they help us protect our young people but also put laws in place that force us all to respect each other in a better way and live a safer live in schools and online. So, and some very good examples I think with the smoking and driving. So, that was excellent.
So, again, you deal with a very broad range of people from young children to adults. Do you, I guess my last question, do you see many adults who suffer from bullying in later life when they are in work in a work environment or a family environment? Because I guess, we all know about bullying in school but is there I guess examples or does it happen to adults as much as children?

JB:  Oh yes, I do a lot of… do you know what CPE means?

CC: I don’t know. Do you mind explaining?

DB: CPE is Counseling Programs employers pay for so that employees can go to counseling and so I belong to quite a few CPE programs and employers are sending their employees all the time because employees intimidate one another, try to find ways to make another employee look bad and cause them to… they somewhat sabotage some others’ success in a cut-throat kind of a way so that they can be able to get themselves higher upon the ladder and I have 2 clients right now that I can think of that…The lady that is her supervisor is actually straight out bullying her employee and daring her to say anything because she is the one that lets her supervisor know how to score her and so, there is nothing she can do. She is trapped. Either she has to quit or she has to put up with it.

I have employees that work for a state and government. They have no one to go to because these people that they would go to are not set up to be able to change the situations for them and so, they have… the way that is set up in their offices, they have to put up with the bully.

Yes there is a lot of intimidation, threatening going on in the offices but anytime people get together, there is always going to be someone that is mean and cruel and if we don’t find a way to stand up to them, they are going to continue being mean and cruel no matter what.

It’s something that we have to resist, we have to fight, we have to refuse to give in to because there is always going to be someone, no matter where you are at, no matter where you work, no matter what you are doing, that wants to be the person that gets all the attention, gets all the respect, gets all the…just wants it all and if we let that person continue, they will make life miserable for us.

Learn more about bullying through this interview on Bullying Mentality

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