What parents should know about roasting, a new cyberbullying trend

"Some people took it as a joke ... others were actually crying about it."

ByABC News
August 25, 2017, 8:19 AM

— -- Experts are warning parents to be aware of a recent rise in the social media trend of "roasting," which many critics consider a harmful form of cyberbullying.

The trend involves people asking to be insulted by posting photos or videos of themselves on platforms such as Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, usually with the hashtag #roastme. Then friends or strangers online will take turns insulting the person who posted the original video or photo. Sometimes the insults are lighthearted or humorous, but the comments can also very quickly turn alarmingly mean.

ABC News' T.J. Holmes sat down with middle school students -- who asked not to be identified by their full names -- to understand more about the online trend that has left some parents baffled.

"Adults don't really say it ... it's like a kid thing," one teenager told ABC News of "roasting."

Another teen explained to Holmes that roasting is about a "50-50" split of good-natured fun and being mean to another person.

The middle schoolers told Holmes that while they do not participate in the trend themselves, they have seen it affect the lives of those around them, saying that some other children from their school were compared to animals online when they were roasted.

"Some people took it as a joke, and then others were actually crying about it," one student told Holmes.

Stephanie Humphrey, a "tech life" expert, told ABC News that it can be difficult for children to make the distinction of when they are just being funny, and when they are crossing the line, especially online.

"Kids are volunteering this information but ... sometimes their pictures are being posted without their knowledge," Humphrey added of the potential dangers or roasting. "You don’t really know how that particular young person may react."

"They may already be suffering from depression," Humphrey said of people who ask to be insulted. "This is the thing that could send them over the edge.”

The middle school students Holmes' interviewed also said that the rising social media trend can affect them even if they are not directly participating in a roast.

One student said she does not like to go on social media after witnessing a roast take place, saying, "I don’t really like people saying negative stuff to each other.”

Another student added that witnessing someone else be insulted can make them feel complicit in the cyberbullying.

“I don’t like witnessing that kind of stuff," she said. "Because if something happened to that person, it makes me feel like I was there.”

The students all agreed that they did not think that cyberbulling was an issue that would go away anytime soon.

"They don’t care because you can’t see them face to face," one girl told Holmes of cyberbullies. "So they’re not going to stop. They’re just going to keep typing.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz told ABC News that parents should be aware of what their children are doing online.

If your child is asking to be the subject of a roast, Saltz said it could mean that your child is struggling with depression or anxiety, or it could even mean that your child is feeling left out. Saltz said children may not even know their own motivation behind asking to be insulted, but she calls asking to be roasted "self destructive" behavior.

In addition, Saltz said that if your child is participating in roasting someone else, it could be moment open up a conversation and teach your child about empathy.