Being scared in cyber-space...
The government’s recent announcement of a crackdown on bullying, and cyberbullying in particular, is a welcome response to a problem that for far too long has slipped under the radar of public attention.
This is a subject that I feel passionately about because I have experienced at first hand the devastating effect that it can have on any individual being targeted. I was bullied in my first year at secondary school and developed alopecia (hair loss) as a result. I dealt with the problem by believing that the bullying must be my fault and didn’t want to bother anyone with my ‘little problem’. Thus, I have vowed as a parent never to assume my child is not the sort to get bullied.
Bullying comes in many forms and is easier than ever for the perpetrators to achieve on a mass scale, given the advances that have occurred in modern technology and the access the all of our children have to it within the home.
Also as a mother I can vouch first hand for how upsetting the effects of bullying can be both for the child and parent, for one of my children has also suffered the same plight. When my child first came to me with this problem, I wondered if I should have spotted the signs earlier and punished myself for not being able to help sooner.
Yet it is not just the parents of the victim that struggle to deal with this problem. In my role as parent coach I see increasing numbers of parents who come to me asking “what did we do wrong” - when confronted with the truth their child is actually doing the bullying themselves.
Bullying is an age-old problem that is still rife in its various forms throughout schools today. Current figures show that as many as one third of children aged 12 – 15 have been the victim of cyberbullying. Children can become involved with cyber bullying to some extent even without fully realising it by passively receiving bullying messages by email or text and then by forwarding them on to others - this has become known as “bystander bullying”.
My own son didn’t fully realise the implications of a fun video he made with friends when he posted it up on You tube and the whole incident got out of hand when his school got involved. Children don’t realise it really is a world wide web and adverts appear on sites that have nothing to do with the intention of the person posting that can also cause offence.
Yet despite these figures parents are still unsure as to what really constitutes bullying and more worryingly many are just blissfully unaware of the dangers.
Parents assume that once safely at home children are free from the strife of the playground jungle and could not possibly be at their most vulnerable. But in truth for many this is where the problems begin.
A bully need no longer run the risk of inflicting their callous words upon their victim in public when it is just as easy to send groups email, pictures and post comments on social networking sites such as bebo, Myspace and Facebook.
Parents need to react, be proactive, keep up with the times and talk to their kids about what is and what’s not acceptable behaviour. They need to focus on the current reality and not get hung-up on their own old preconceptions as to what bullying entails - it’s different nowadays. As a result of cyberbullying children regularly avoid school, experience depression, self harm and in worse cases attempt suicide.
Cyberbullies can remain “virtually” anonymous with temporary email accounts and pseudonyms in chat rooms, instant messaging programs, and other Internet venues making it very difficult for individuals to determine the identity of aggressors. Cyberbullies can hide behind some measure of anonymity when using the text-message capabilities of a cellular phone or their personal computer to bully another individual, which frees them from the normal and usual social constraints on their behaviour.
What’s more, your child is at the mercy of bullies 24 / 7 once it begins, mobile phones enable children to receive abusive texts emails and phones any place, any time, anywhere.
So, it is great news that the industry has taken on some of the moral compass over this issue and aided the government with their campaign, providing practical tips including not responding to malicious texts or emails, saving evidence and providing passwords, editing and barring on different mediums. However, parents must actively be aware and take part in helping to combat this problem at is source - the children themselves.
Parents need to be aware what to look for in their children if they think they maybe being bullied and just as worrying, what to put a stop to in order to prevent having to go through the machinations and soul searching after learning your child has taken to bullying.
Parents need to teach their children to report bullying if they see it happening to others because they can help put a stop to it. Remind them that they needn’t feel afraid of doing the right thing. They are not being ‘snitches’ or ‘grasses’. Explain that even though just standing by may be easier, everyone needs a little help from time to time.
If your child does become the victim of bullying get them to keep an accurate and detailed diary of events such as the one available on my website (www.positive-parents.com) for reporting to the proper authorities.
With all the risks and challenges that cyberbullying brings parents should look to set guidelines on their child’s usage of their mobile phones and talk to them about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour when texting. Surprisingly, many parents overlook mobile phones and never think to set any rules of use and just allow their children carte blanche - failing to think about the access their child may have via their personal mobile phone to the internet. Parents need to set guidelines similar to those for a PC, including how much time is spent on the phone, which applications are allowed, and who the children are allowed to contact.
Although this may be difficult to monitor it is essential in making children aware that their behaviour is being monitored and just because it’s the internet doesn’t mean that anything goes. This way parents are taking an interest and in the back of their child’s mind will be their parents warning, which should ensure their usage patterns and behaviour will be more thought through and consequences taken into consideration.
Secondly, as a preventative measure to bullying parents should look to block sites and numbers. Many mobile operators offer the ability to limit access or block sites, numbers or access times for the cell phone. Contacting service providers and asking what options are available will help parents discover how best they can combat any potential problems.
Furthermore, you can also find out how and when your child is using their mobile phone. Reading their phone bill provides a great snapshot of a child’s activity, parents should review their bills carefully for late night and other types of communication, looking at who SMS messages are going to.
It is impossible to irradiate cyberbullying, however, we should all be aware of the dangers and be ready to act when needed. Bullying has profound affects on a child’s development and we must ensure we are doing all we can to conquer this age old disease.