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Cyberbullying: know the signs, manage the risk – for children, teens and adolescents

We all know of or remember a bully; especially from our childhood.

That person, who by force, threat, or coercion abused, intimidated or aggressively dominated us or others we knew. We would, and often could avoid these “physical” in-person attacks.

Unfortunately, while better connecting the world and democratising information, the Internet also now allows bullies to hide behind masks of anonymity. The darker side, the “faceless evil” of the Internet is a growing threat to teens, specifically when it comes cyberbullying. Despite a more recent ramping up of awareness campaigns, cyberbullying facts and statistics indicate the problem is not going away anytime soon. Recent statistics show steady growth in cyberbullying. Research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting revealed the number of children admitted to hospitals for attempted suicide or expressing suicidal thoughts doubled between 2008 and 2015. Much of the rise is linked to an increase in cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is using electronic communication to bully another, for instance by sending intimidating, threatening or unpleasant messages using social media. This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of lack of parental/authoritative supervision. Because bullies can pose as someone else, it is the most anonymous form of bullying and can be difficult to control. Cyberbullying includes – among others, abuse using email, instant messaging, text messaging, websites, social networking sites etcetera. With the creation of social media networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, cyberbullying has doubled in the last ten years according to National Crime Prevention Council of the UK.

Where and how cyberbullying occurs

In the Internet age, the opportunity to bully others has only increased. Prior to the Internet, a physical presence was often needed outside of spreading rumours. Now, bullying can occur immediately, to a much larger audience, and can spread much faster. Additionally, those who choose to bully others can get more immediate gratification from likes, shares, retweets, and the “piling on” effect that often occurs when others add to an already negative situation.

Some recent statistics on cyberbullying include:

  1. 1 percent of cases reported that they were affected by online rumours. (Source: Cyberbullying Research Centre )

  2. Just over 7 percent of middle school and high school students had a mean or hurtful web page created about them. (Source: Cyberbullying Research Centre)

  3. In a survey of parents and adults across Asia, 79 percent reported that either their child or a child they know had been threatened with physical harm while playing online games.

  4. Cyberbullying often occurs on Facebook or through text messages. (Source: American Journal of Public Health )

Direct impact of cyberbullying on teens and adolescents

The long-lasting impacts of cyberbullying are difficult to ignore. Alongside the increasing number of suicides directly linked to cyberbullying, other consequences arise for bullying victims. One 2016 study discovered that bullying victims are more likely to engage in substance abuse and nonviolent delinquency. Other cyberbullying research (listed below) indicates that cyberbullying carries over into how students feel about their physical safety at school. Additionally, cyberbullying can negatively impact a student’s’ overall success by cutting into their motivation.

How to protect your children from cyberbullying:

  1. Talk about it

Talking about it openly will assure your children that you know what cyberbullying is, and will likely encourage them to be open about it to you, should they experience it.

Parents also have the ability through conversation to teach their kids what’s funny and what’s cruel online, so their children don’t become bullies in turn. Children often don’t think about the consequences of their actions; they get caught up in the moment, create a post, which before they know has gone viral.

  1. Get involved

Know which social networks your kids use, and if necessary, follow them on social media and conduct occasional spot checks. If you’re not particularly tech-savvy, learn the basics of how that social media platform works.

It’s easier to warn them about the dangers of something you understand. Also teach them the basics of online behaviour, for example, the fact that they should never share anything they wouldn’t want the world seeing, that public digital content is permanent, and to save any evidence of bullying that does occur.

  1. Set limits

Be wary of giving your kids limitless access to internet-accessible devices or leaving them unsupervised for long periods of time. When you do give them a smartphone, talk about your expectations for their behaviour and actions. You have the right as a parent to give them technological devices on condition that you’re able to access the devices at any time, especially when they are younger.

Consider the impact of social media and open exposure to the Internet on young children before even giving your children smartphones.

  1. Spot the signs

According to the Cyberbullying Research Centre of South Africa, there are signs you can look out for to determine that your child may be a target of cyberbullying. If he or she unexpectedly stops using their device, appears nervous or jumpy when using their phone, appears uneasy about going to school or outside in general, appears to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after going online, becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family member, loses interest in the things that mattered most to them, avoids discussions about what they are doing online, frequently calls or texts from school requesting to go home ill, desires to spend much more time with parents rather than peers and becomes unusually secretive, especially when it comes to online activities, they may be the victims of cyberbullying.


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