Cyber-Bullying: Why Parents need to become Cyber-Smart

Our increasingly connected world, thanks to the internet and social media, has created another platform for bullies to harass their victims. No longer are bullies confined to the school playground to target their victims. Today many bullies are refraining from the typical physical assaults, opting instead for around the clock covert bashing via text message, social media, email or instant messaging.

Australia is ranked number one in the world for cyber-bullying. Interestingly, now more than 80% of children under the age of 10 are active on social media with 1 in 5 children each year reporting being bullied online. With these alarming statistics and the rise in teenage suicides around the world following being bullied online, parents need to be aware and on alert for cyber-bullying.iStock_000032272056_Large

Cyber-bullying is when a person uses digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person. Cyber-bullying happens in lots of different ways – by mobile phone, text messages, email, online games or through sites such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and so on. It can also extend to ‘sexting’ or by spreading or sharing personal messages or photos with others or sending them ‘viral.’

Effects of Cyber-Bullying

Children and teenagers who experience cyber-bullying online can also end up seeing this extend to school.Cyber-bullying often leaves teenagers with low self-esteem, low mood, less interest in school and low academic achievement. Children and teenagers might feel alone, lonely and isolated and unsure of how to manage the situation.

Cyber-bullying can also lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. There have now been documented evidence that shows a direct correlation between bullying and increase risk of suicide with a study in the US at Yale University citing that teenage victims of bullying are 2-9 times more likely to commit suicide during their teenage years and a study in the UK contributing more than half of the suicides in the UK of  adolescents to bullying.

Helping your Child avoid Cyber-Bullying

Here are some things you can do to help make cyber-bullying less likely to happen to your child:

  • Agree on clear rules about when your child can use their mobile phone, computer or tablet. It’s best if you agree to switch off all devices at night and leave them in a family area.
  • Talk about cyber-bullying with your child when he/she first starts to use social networking sites, or when he gets a mobile phone. Talk about what cyber-bullying looks like, how it might feel to be cyber-bullied and the consequences it can have. Tell your child never to pass along or reply to bullying material.
  • Encourage your child to tell you, a teacher, an older sibling or a trusted adult if he/she’s worried about anything that’s happening online.
  • Talk with your child about online friends and messaging friend lists. Explain that if your child adds someone they don’t really know as a ‘buddy’ or ‘friend’, it gives that person access to information about him that could be used for bullying.
  • Closely monitor your child’s/teenager’s online use by ‘friending’ them on social media and by routinely checking browser history
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child’s online behavior.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you’ll only use them in case of emergency.
  • Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, is being cyber-bullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.

How to spot Cyber-Bullying

Cyber-bullying can be tough to spot because it is always done covertly and via the internet or social media. Many young people who are being bullied feel embarrassed or ashamed and don’t want to talk to their parents or teachers about it. Young people often fear it may get worse if a parent becomes involved or they may worry about losing their mobile phone or internet privileges and with

If your child or young person is experiencing cyber-bullying you may notice some changes in their behaviour, mood and activities such as:

  • withdraws from friends and activities, and avoids school or group gatheringsCyber Bullying
  • refuses or reluctance to go to school
  • change in school performance
  • is upset during or after using the internet
  • spends much longer than usual online, or refuses to use the computer at all
  • becomes secretive around their internet activity
  • changes in mood
  • somatic complaints such as stomach-aches or headaches

Cyber-bullying is a real and ever-present issue that is here to stay. By parents, teachers and society as a whole becoming more aware and vigilant about the presence of cyber-bullying we can  all help tackle it and ensure that Australia does not stay the number one country in the world for cyber-bullying.

If you have concerns that your child or adolescent is the victim of cyber-bullying than talk to them and if required, seek professional help.

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