What Every Parent Should Know About Cyber Bullying in Australia
What is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying involves using the internet to bully someone. Some common manifestations of cyber-bullying include:
- Posting mean messages on someone’s social media account and/or posting such messages about a person on one’s own social media account
- Text message bullying
- Sending mean emails
- Using the internet to make threats of verbal and/or physical violence
- Blackmailing someone via the internet
- Posting embarrassing photos of someone online without their permission
Australian cyber bullying statistics are nothing short of alarming. One in four children admits to having been bullied online at some point in time. What is more, fewer parents are talking with their children about cyber safety, despite the fact that up to 80% of children less than ten years of age are active on social media networks.
At least one anti-bullying expert has noted the fact that most parents are not as tech-savvy as their children. This means that they often do not monitor what their children do online and/or fail to understand the implications of allowing their children to use social media outlets without proper supervision and training. These and other reasons have caused a social bully epidemic greater than that faced by other developed countries. In fact, Australia recently ranked in first place as being the nation with the highest rate of cyber bulling in the world.
What does Cyber bullying Mean for a Child?
Cyberbullying always has a negative impact on a child or teen. It is not uncommon for a victim of bullying to feel alone, ashamed, depressed, and guilty or even lash out in anger and become a cyber or real world bully.
Parents should be aware of the negative emotions that often accompany cyber-bullying. These include:
- Lack of desire to go to school
- Fear of going to school
- Low grades
- Lack of appetite or eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts (or even attempts)
- Bullying behaviour
Naturally, the above mentioned symptoms may be caused by other problems. However, given the prevalence of cyberbullying in Australia, parents should never rule this issue out when dealing with one or more of the above mentioned problems.
What Causes Cyber bullying?
There are many reasons why a child or teen may turn to bullying others on the internet or via mobile phone communications. These are:
- Low self esteem. Low self esteem has been the root cause of bullying for decades. A child or young person who does not have a high opinion of him or herself will often resort to putting others down. Bullies who put others down and make them feel bad often feel that doing so makes them look better, smarter, prettier or what have you.
- Violence at home. Many bullies come from difficult backgrounds and may very well be experiencing violence at home. As children copy their parents, it is not uncommon for a child who is verbally and/or physically abused at home to engage in the same behaviour at school.
- Looking Good. Some children simply want to fit in with the “in” group and so join in when this group bullies someone else online. These children are, in many cases, simply attempting to save themselves from being targeted by the bully by joining forces with the bully to victimize someone else.
- Lack of Proper Moral Education. Sadly, some children lack a proper moral education. They have been taught by parents, older siblings or other close friends and family members that a person’s worth is determined by gender, ethnicity, clothing, wealth and/or other factors. Such children will often bully those whom they feel are beneath them simply because they fail to recognize the personal worth of the victim.
Teaching Children to Prevent and Deal with Bullying
Now that it is clear what cyberbullying is, it is time to talk about teaching children how to prevent and deal with this common problem.
Parents will want to talk with their children about the dangers of internet usage. Children should learn from a fairly early age that the internet poses many hazards (of which cyberbullying is only one). They should understand that certain guidelines should always be followed when using social media accounts, including:
- Not opening an account until one is 13 years of age (this is a standard requirement set forth by nearly all social media accounts; sadly; many kids and young teenagers fail to understand its importance and so ignore it)
- Social media account settings should always be adjusted so that only close friends and family members can view one’s profile
- Children should never friend people they do not know well.
- Children who see cyberbullying occur or are targeted by a cyber-bully should immediately tell their parents or a trusted adult about it. Parents should make it clear that a child will never be grounded or in trouble for reporting cyber-bullying, regardless of how or why it occurred.
- Children and teens should also learn to be very careful about the information and pictures they post online. If the information would not be shared with a casual acquaintance, then it is best kept off the internet.
- Young mobile phone users should know how to block the number of a cyberbully.
- A young person who is being harassed online should keep a record of the harassment. This includes emails, text messages and other documentation, as it can be used to press criminal charges against a cyber-bully.
Talking about Self Esteem
There is one main underlying issue that parents should always discuss when teaching children about cyber-bullying and that is self-esteem. Many children have extreme reactions to cyber bullying (i.e. attempted suicide, depression, panic attacks, etc.) simply because their self esteem takes a hit when one or more cyberbullies target them.
Children should understand that they are valuable and of worth simply because of who they are. This self-worth does not depend on the type of clothes they wear, their hairstyle, grades, talents, weaknesses or any other factor. Those who understand this principle are better able to deal with cyberbullying than those who do not have a healthy sense of self-esteem.
Dealing with a Cyberbully
It is not uncommon for children to bully others online without their parents being aware of the fact. This is just one of the many reasons why parents should supervise their children’s social media and internet usage as much as possible. With proper supervision, parents can often catch online bullying when it starts and help children understand why bullying someone over the internet is wrong.
Following are some pointers to keep in mind when discussing cyber-bullying with a child who is bullying others online.
- First of all, make sure the child is not being bullied. It is very common for victims of bullying to turn into bullies themselves.
- Ask a child why he or she is engaging in bullying behaviour. Finding the root cause of the problem will enable a parent to deal with the issue and not just the behaviour.
- Seek counselling. Cyber-bullies often need professional help; this can be obtained from a licensed counsellor or psychiatrist who specializes in working with children or young people.
- Set consequences in place. Owning a phone and using social media accounts are privileges, not rights. Children who use their phone and/or computer to bully others should have their privileges restricted or taken away. Parents should make it clear that using a phone to bully someone else will result in having the mobile phone taken away for a pre-determined period of time. If a personal computer is used to engage in online bullying, then this computer should either be confiscated or moved to a public area of the home so that parents can better supervise a child’s activities.
- Teens over the age of 14 should understand that there are legal consequences for online bullying. While laws regarding this issue vary depending on which state you live in, most states do have laws that allow for young bullies to face criminal charges for their actions.
- One particularly malicious of cyber bullying involves sending suggestive or nude pictures of another young person to others and/or posting such pictures online. Young people need to understand that doing this is not only morally wrong but also has serious legal consequences. A cyber-bully who engages in this form of behaviour can be charged with possession and/or distribution of pornography and these charges will forever remain on a person’s record.
What Else can a Parent Do?
Talking with a child about cyber-bullying issues is one of the best things parents can do to prevent and/or deal with the cyber-bullying problem. However, there are times when simply discussing matters at home is not enough.
If the cyberbully goes to school with your child, you may want to consider talking with the principal or superintendant of the school regarding the issue. Good schools understand what is cyberbullying exactly and will likely have rules against it.
If threats of physical violence are involved, then parents will want to speak to law enforcement officials as soon as possible. Police can also help to track down a cyberbully in cases where a parent or child cannot identify who is making the threats.
If cyberbullying problems continue despite a parent’s or child’s efforts, then getting a new mobile phone, changing email address, deleting one or more social media accounts and/or moving to a new school should be considered. Alternatively, a parent may opt to pull a child from a traditional school setting altogether and either enrol the child in a virtual school or home school.
Cyber bullying is no small problem in Australia, as is evidenced by the fact that at least 25% of all children are affected by this problem at some point in time. What is more, the fact that young children are getting online more often than they used to means that children are likely to face cyber bullying at an early age.
Thankfully, there are various things that parents can do to prevent cyber bullying and/or deal with it when it occurs. To start with, parents whose children are just starting to get online should talk with the children about cyberbullying and other dangers. Children should know what cyber bullying is and what to do about it when it occurs. They should also know how to prevent cyber bullies from harassing them online.
Young people should also understand the consequences of using the internet to bully or harass others in any way. Parents will need to supervise a child’s internet and mobile phone usage as much as possible and enforce agreed upon consequences if a child starts to bully others for any reason.
Finally, parents should be prepared to take drastic action if cyber bullying becomes an ongoing problem. This may involve going to police, talking to school officials, changing personal information or all of the above. Cyber bullying is a serious problem that should never be ignored in the hopes that it will eventually go away on its own.