Cyberbullying is fast becoming a major problem among young people. One of the main differences between cyberbullying and other types of bullying is that when they are online, communication between young people is often hidden from adults, making cyberbullying difficult to detect and deal with. According to www.webwise.ie initial findings in last year’s EU Kids Online survey revealed that almost a quarter of children claim they have been bullied online.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is where people use the internet, mobile phones and other technologies to inflict psychological harm on their targets. It is “a repeated and sustained campaign of behaviour which has a serious negative impact on the well-being of the victim.” Cyberbullying can involve sending mean or threatening messages, posting photos or video clips, using social networking sites to verbally “attack” another, setting up fake profiles to say bad things about a person or accessing someone’s account repeatedly to make trouble for them. Ways in which bullies can access their targets are increasing all the time. The prevalence of technological “gadgets” among young people means that the threat of cyberbullying is ever present. However, cyberbullying is not a problem of technology but a problem of behaviour. An additional aspect is that, while in traditional bullying children have known who the bully is, with cyberbullying they often don’t.
“Anonymity empowers bullies to act aggressively”
What can parents do?
According to Webwise there are a number of tell tale signs which parents should watch out for. If a child is avoiding school or seems upset or angry when or after using their phone or PC it may be a sign of cyberbullying. Webwise also alerts parents to the fact that if a child rapidly switches screens when an adult comes into the room, there may be something they don’t want their parents to know! Dealing with the bullying will involve having a discussion with the child in a reassuring and positive environment and giving advice on how to deal with it. Webwise gives the following advice:
Start by commending your child for coming to speak to you about the problem. Then, give them the following advice:
• Don’t Reply: Young people should never reply to messages that harass or annoy them. The bully wants to know they have upset their target. If they get a response it feeds into the problem and makes things worse
• Keep the Messages: By keeping nasty messages your child will be able to produce a record of the bullying, the dates and the times. This will be useful for any subsequent school or garda investigation
• Block the Sender: No one needs to put up with someone harassing them. Whether it’s mobile phones, social networking or chat rooms, children can block contacts through service providers
• Report Problems: Ensure your child reports any instances of cyberbullying to websites or service providers. Sites like Facebook have reporting tools. By using these, your child will be passing important information to people who can help eradicate cyberbullying.
Often, children are afraid to report bullying because they fear it will escalate. As well as providing a safe atmosphere where children can feel safe and confident to reveal if they are being bullied, parents can take preventative measures to try and avoid bullying happening in the first place. It is recommended that children always use internet in a room frequented by others, not alone in a bedroom. Parents can monitor internet use and periodically check what sites children have visited. Mobile phone operators provide a “dual access” service, which allows parents have access to numbers called, account balances, etc. This service is supplied on request.
Good ‘netiquette’ should be encouraged from an early age, whereby children are encouraged to use correct language online, not to copy others’ work and to comply with copyright laws with regard to downloading music, movies, etc. If children grow up with a proper regard for how they behave online, they are less likely to become either bullies or victims of bullies. The aim of education in this regard is to empower children and young people to use the internet, as well as other online and mobile technologies, positively, safely and effectively.
There is a lot of material aimed at equipping parents to keep their children safe online.
Webwise is the current NCTE internet safety initiative and is the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Node of Insafe, the European network of internet safety awareness nodes. It provides parents, teachers, and children with educational resources, advice and information about potential dangers on the Internet and empowers users to minimise or avoid these risks. Some of the topics discussed on Webwise are:
The impact of cyberbullying on young people
Ask.fm – A guide for parents and teachers
Parents’ Guides and articles on issues such as learning how to set parental controls and limiting which websites your child can view.
Another useful site is www.watchyourspace.ie
We invited our community Garda, Niall, gave a talk to 6th class regarding safety on the internet/safe use of mobile phones, etc. The talk was very informative, and indeed salutary, for the pupils as Niall gave them some strong advice on how to behave when using technology. He also discussed what they should do if they receive unwanted or undesirable messages, and his main advice, which he reiterated a number of times, was:
Don’t reply/Keep the message/Block the sender/Tell someone you trust.
Another aspect of Niall’s talk was to make the pupils aware of the consequences of unacceptable, or indeed illegal, behaviour online. He spoke of the “digital footprint” that we each leave behind online, and told them that all online activity can be traced back to the user if necessary. Niall urged caution about posting pictures of friends online, warning that images can be manipulated. He urged the pupils to always have someone’s permission before they posted a picture online.
Niall’s advice to the students regarding smartphones was to ensure that they have a screen lock to prevent anyone else accessing their phone, and to be sure to logout of their accounts when they leave them, important advice not just for now, but for the future also.
In general, Niall’s advice to the pupils was to Be Aware and Take Care when using technology.
Niall’s advice to parents is that all mobile phones should be switched off and left with parents at 9pm every night.