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Why You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike

Long term effects of cyberbullying and online abuse is largely unknown, emerging evidence shows some concerning effects - especially in teenage victims. If you are affected by anything touched on within this article, follow the links to our various support services or click on the blue logo icon at the bottom right of the screen to start using Cybersmile Assistant, our smart AI support assistant.

Many of us learn how to ride a bike when we’re young; yet, as we grow, most stop riding. Have you ever noticed that when you get the urge to bike, you are just able to hop on and start riding again? Have you ever wondered why it seems you cannot forget how to ride a bike?

It Starts at Childhood

In short, our long-term memories are divided in to two portions: declarative memory and procedural memory. Declarative memory is mainly the portion of the brain which keeps track of “what is what”. It helps us recall events, facts and other memories that are associated with life. Not too far removed from declarative memory is procedural memory – the type of memory which comprehends “how and what”. It is the unconscious memory that helps us understand how stuff works. Once one learns how to ride a bike, they can never forget it because it gets stored within the procedural memory. Procedural memory consists of using objects (including musical instruments), as well as movements of the body (such as typing).

And Lasts a Lifetime

I share this because I believe being cyberbullied when younger lodges certain emotions into our minds (our declarative memories) that we will recall once older. I believe that we learn how to react to these situations as children, and cyberbullying plays a role in determining our behaviour and responses as adults. I recall how I felt when I was bullied: I became more introverted and constantly felt moody and anxious. My heart rate would hasten and I would get fidgety (explore our resources for more details on signs that someone is being cyberbullied). These behaviors – reactions to being bullied or the fear I would be bullied again – had become part of my long-term memory. Now, I tend to display the same feelings and physical reactions when I am cyber-harassed or bullied. It is all too easy for me to revert back to this state because previous experiences of bullying have imprinted on my memory. It triggers a “flight or fight” response – the part of our very nervous system that is switched on when we feel threatened.
Late last week, I somehow found myself under what I call an “@ attack”, where I felt my privacy was being extremely violated on Twitter; so much so, that I locked my feed (if you feel threatened or uncomfortable online you can email [email protected] for a trained advisor). While it has subsided, I felt awash with panic and this feeling of “everyone’s watching me” while I was getting 8, then 32, then 156 notifications on my mobile Twitter icon. I was back to being twelve again. Somehow, my body reverted back to its state of immediate doom and panic; I was “riding an emotional bike” of sorts. Children are facing chronic depression at alarming rates as a result of cyberbullying. While cyberbullies are drawn to the anonymity and impermanence of social media, the lasting effects of the cyberbullying upon the impressionable mind of the victim are anything but impermanent.

What Will the Future Hold?

Through seeking positive outlets that help me deal with this anxiety, I have found ways to cope and control my knee-jerk reaction of angst. I recognise though that children experiencing cyberbullying do not have some of these outlets. Few can get text messages from friends reminding them to breathe and that it will all be okay, or have the ability to shut their office door and turn on their #PositivePlaylist. Most people believe that most of what we learn in our early years cannot be forgotten, and because most of us learn how to ride bikes in childhood, we’ll never forget how to. While not scientifically founded in heaps of research, I have to believe that emotional abuse sustained from cyberbullying will come back longer-term. It has for me.

As an adult thinking of raising a family in the future, I wonder what my children will one day face online. I wonder if it really can get any worse. I’ve discovered this week, it can, especially in states of mass uncertainty. I wonder about how the generation younger than mine will cope now, to then grow into healthy adults. Unfortunately, no answer exists except the obvious imperative that we need to continue to work harder to recognise the signs of cyberbullying and prevent the behaviour happening.

From Me to You

More music, please! If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to create a list of your own, or listen to one of the great ones from Cybersmile! I recently added these songs to my #PositivePlaylist.

  • It’s Amazing – Jem
  • Love Myself – Hailee Steinfeld
  • Firestone – Kygo, Conrad Sewell
  • Rather Be – Clean Bandit, Jesse Glynne
  • Heroes – Alesso, Tove Lo
  • Titanium – David Guetta, Sia

Huge thank you to Laura (@la_le) for another fantastic contribution! If you are being cyberbullied or experiencing any form of online negativity, visit our cyberbullying and online abuse help center or check out our total access support services for the different ways we can help you. For more information about Cybersmile and the work we do, explore the following recommendations:

What are your thoughts about the long term effects of cyberbullying? Tweet us @CybersmileHQ. If this post has got you wanting to contribute to our blog, email [email protected] and someone will be in touch.