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Each month we alert you to a site or trend that you need to be aware of to protect your teenaged social media users.  This month we are warning you about: Cyber Self-Harm.

This month we are alerting you to a social media-related danger that many parents may not have considered before: cyber self-harm.

In 2013, Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old from the United Kingdom, committed suicide by hanging. Reportedly, she had been cyberbullied for months prior to her death. A subsequent investigation revealed, however, that the harassing messages Hannah had received via social media had in fact been posted by Hannah herself.

Hannah’s case is one of the first documented instances of cyber-self harm, a form of Munchausen’s syndrome where teens post mean or harassing posts about themselves anonymously or using fictitious identities. Social media seemingly enables this behavior by providing the ability to post publicly and anonymously.  While statistics concerning the prevalence of cyber self-harm are sparse, one study suggests that as many as 10% of high school teens have falsely posted a cruel remark against themselves or cyberbullied themselves.

The seriousness of individual cases of cyber self-harm can vary.  Cyber self-harm can range from one-time experimentation to more frequent, chronic episodes.  And, similarly, cyber self-harm can be indicative of mild emotional distress or, on the other end of the spectrum, a severe mental health issue.

Parents need to be aware of cyber self-harm because it requires a different response and support than those children being targeted by actual cyberbullies.

What To Do

As a reminder, when dealing with any serious cyberbullying in general, we recommend seeking professional assistance from a licensed mental health professional.

If you suspect cyber self-harm or if your child is being cyberbullied anonymously or by individuals you do not know, we recommend speaking privately to a licensed mental health professional to ensure he or she responsibly screens for cyber self-harm.  Since victims of bullying most often feel highly isolated already, you should NOT bring up the topic or any suspicions of cyber self-harm with your child alone, but rather, relay your concerns privately to the mental health professional for more guidance on your particular situation.

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