Interactive websites such as social media websites or gaming chat rooms, along with cell phone text messaging and other electronic media, can sometimes attract mentally unstable individuals that prey on the vulnerability of children. Cyberbullying has become a serious problem that has far reaching affects. Derogatory and harassing text messages or Internet posts made to and about children can have deep psychological effects such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. Many children are not emotionally equipped to deal with bullying, so remain passive as the emotional distress builds up, sometimes leading to severe consequences.
Teachers often find children who have been the victims of cyberbullying suddenly grow quieter in their classes. They show a marked lack of enthusiasm, and have difficulty concentrating and participating in schoolwork or other school-related activities. Subsequently, their academic success becomes jeopardized. There are a number of things that educators can do to help solve the problem of cyber bullying in Canada.
Parents should be on the lookout for any symptoms that cyber bullying has occurred toward their children. They can help by making themselves more available and interacting with their children more on a more personal level. It helps to show an interest in how one’s children feel and to encourage them to express their feelings, especially when it comes to something as serious as cyberbullying. Children need to know that their parents are their allies.
Parents can become proactive in taking preventive measures to create a home environment that enables their children to safely reduce the chances of being cyber bullied. The parents can offer protection in the form of supervision of their children’s social media interactions and to offer them a sense of comfort.
There are a number of rules that parents can put into place that can also help. For instance, children should be taught not to give out personal information about themselves to strangers online. They should be taught not to give out their personal passwords to any third parties other than their parents. Parents should, however, have their children’s passwords at all times.
Parents can sit down with their children and show them how to identify emails that might arrive from child predators. They should be encouraged not to open any email from any person with whom they have personal knowledge. It is a good idea to ask children to reserve suspicious email for the parents to open later.
Parents are also advised to inform themselves about the root causes of cyber bullying and why it occurs. Bullying, in any form, can often mean a cry for help from someone, often-another child, who was once the victim of bullying him or her. Helping one’s children understand this element of the equation can often help parents stop bullying before it even begins.
A special advisory committee on cyber bullying has made a number of recommendations to the Canadian government that involve a plan to promote awareness about the harm that cyber bullying can cause children, and to make parents and students aware of the relevant programs that exist for parents and children alike. There is a movement afoot to assure that these programs are available in every region of Canada.
Cyber bullying in Canada has highlighted the need for these resources to help children cope with bullying online. Kids Help Phone exists for that purpose. In 2007, Elizabeth Lines, representing Kids Help Phone, administered a study of close to 2500 students between the ages of 13 and 15. Over 70% of these children had previously reported being bullied via their computers, while close to 45% of them admitted to having bullied another person at least one time in their lives. This study suggested that a large number of children do not understand the impossibility of controlling the flow of information that one can access with their computers and that they do not comprehend that cyberspace is not personal.
Parents and teachers that work together to raise awareness about cyberbullying are taking the first step toward solving the problem. Elizabeth Lines, “Cyberbullying: Our Kids’ New Reality,” Kids Help Phone (April 2007)