What’s Behind Cyberbullying in Games — And How Can We Fight It?

Many parents know what it’s like when their child’s in distress because they’ve been bullied. When their feelings are bruised, our kids can seem inconsolable, frustrated, and angry. It’s part of growing up, and part of parenting — but there’s a new source of trauma that’s much harder for parents to understand, confront, and effectively mitigate: cyberbullying.


At least 60% of teenagers say they’ve experienced cyberbullying or harassment online. And 95% of teens are internet users. Exposure to internet culture is ubiquitous among kids today.


The internet is a recipe for toxic interpersonal behavior among kids thanks to its anonymity, lack of adult supervision or role modeling, and freedom from consequences.


If that weren’t bad enough, one of the most prevalent ways kids are spending their time online is playing multiplayer games (70% of people under 18 play games). Online games are a particularly virulent breeding ground for negative behavior, because they add even more ingredients to that toxic stew: competition, teamwork, skill disparities, and other stressors.


Some of the most popular online games are team-based, like League of Legends, which pits two teams of five against each other in matches that average 30 minutes or more. And unlike real-world team sports like soccer or basketball, online games often match complete strangers with each other on a team.


With no coach present to supervise the action and mediate conflict, no preexisting relationships, and oftentimes a wide range of skill levels, players frequently lash out. Some research indicates that rates of cyberbullying are in fact higher in games than in other forms of online engagement.


As a parent, when your kid’s been cyberbullied, it’s a troubling and frustrating experience, and it’s one where you can feel powerless and out of the loop. Unlike bullying that takes place among real-life peers, where there’s more adult supervision from teachers, coaches, and other parents, incidents of cyberbullying offer no immediate recourse to parents besides pulling the plug. And the generational gap between how most parents experience the internet and how our kids do is massive — the source of our children’s trauma can seem entirely alien and incomprehensible.


That’s incredibly disempowering to parents who want more than anything to protect our children from trauma and provide them with the guidance and support that will help them grow into wonderful, well-rounded people.


I co-founded Vanta Leagues as a direct response to my son’s experience being cyberbullied in an online game.


I realized shortly after it happened that there’s already a model out there: youth sports. Team sports and extracurricular clubs are massively valuable to developing social and emotional skills in kids, and providing the direct mentorship that helps them manage the many stressors that competition creates.


Enter Vanta Leagues: a youth esports developmental program that provides expert coaching and mentorship for kids. We’re trying to solve as many of the problems identified above as we can within the context of popular competitive video games.


Professional coaches and moderators add adult supervision, encouraging teamwork and collaboration and discouraging negativity and harassment. Structured curriculum helps to teach social emotional learning as well as leadership and communications skills. And disciplined practice and competition schedules help kids form a healthier relationship with games and optimize their screen time.


“It’s not only a chance for my child to work on his social skills and teamwork skills,” Nancy Epstein, a parent whose kid has participated in Vanta Leagues, told me about her experience with the program. “It’s also a place where he's not going to get bullied, and he’s going to be safe.”


One Vanta Leagues coach experienced both sides of cyberbullying growing up.


“I sought out online games as an escape from real-world bullying and negativity, only to find more abuse online. I was massively into League of Legends, and I’d play eight, ten hours a day sometimes — the toxicity, abuse, racial slurs hurled my way were really distressing. And it became a cycle of abuse that I felt myself pulled into.”


“That’s why I was drawn to Vanta, originally as a coach. If something like Vanta had been around when I was younger, I’m certain it would have helped me form a healthier relationship with games sooner, and avoid some painful experiences.”


Games are an inescapable part of our kids’ lives, and it’s understandable that some parents’ reaction is to simply reject them outright — to simply limit screen time or ban their kids from playing games at all. But we owe it to them as parents to understand games, and to do our best to create a safe and constructive environment around the activity. That’s exactly what we’re striving to do at Vanta, and we’ve seen incredible results thus far.


Are you a school or community organization who has thought about starting an esports program? Let us know and learn more here: Esports for Schools & Community Orgs


Are you a parent of a gamer? Learn more here: Vanta Leagues Esports Porgrams. We offer a safe learning environment with experienced coaching and provide gaming leagues and camps for youth gamers. Our methods ensure that kids have the protection and supervision they need while learning the ins and outs of the exciting esports space!




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