Cyberbullying is “the use of cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms or social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to harass, threaten or intimidate someone. Cyberbullies usually spread mean words, lies, and false rumours or embarrassing images. It is often done by children who have increasingly early access to these technologies”.
In a recent global survey by YouGov, it was found that one in five South African teenagers have experienced cyberbullying first-hand, and 84% say they know someone who has been bullied online. South Africa had the fourth highest percentage after New Zealand (30%), the USA (27%), and Ireland (26%).
Just like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying causes physical, emotional, and psychological stress. Cyberbullying also increases the risk of suffering from anxiety or depression, and even suicide.
Look out for these warning signs
If you suspect that your child is being cyberbullied, watch out of the following signs:
- They seem sad, scared, or anxious, especially after visiting a social media platform or reading phone messages.
- Their eating and sleeping patterns change.
- They have no interest in social or other activities.
- They get sick more often or complain about inexplicable aches and pains.
- They miss or skip school and their grades go down.
- They turn to alcohol or drugs to cope.
What parents can do to stop cyberbullying
The main reason children do not tell their parents that they are being cyberbullied is because they are scared to lose their devices or computer time. It is thus essential that you talk openly and regularly to your kids about it and institute the following house rules:
- The family computer must be kept in the busiest room in your home, like the kitchen or lounge.
- Set limits on online time.
- Be present when your kids create their e-mail or social media accounts. Write down their screen names and passwords. Also make sure that they do not include personal information in their profile.
- Go through their friends list with them at least once a month. Let them tell you who each buddy is and how they know them.
- Do not stick your head in the sand. Talk to your kids about cyberbullying. Ask them if they or someone they know have been bullied online.
How children can protect themselves from cyberbullying
- Be a good digital citizen. Think twice about what you post about yourself and share about others. Do not share anything that could hurt or embarrass anyone.
- Do not trust anyone, even your closest buddies, with your password. Your parents must, however, know your passwords.
- Security settings let you decide who sees what. Think about who sees what you post online.
- Chat to your parents and let them know what you are doing online. Remember, they care about you and want you to be safe and happy.
- If you see something online that scares or saddens you, speak to an adult.