What you should know about cyberbullying

It is hard to really remember how we felt about school and the friends we had when we were younger, but if only for a moment, let’s put ourselves back into the shoes of our teenage selves. Imagine sitting at home on a Tuesday morning knowing the bell had just announced the start of the second class for the day.

You know you’re supposed to be at maths now, but the thought of showing your face is so unbearable that the repercussions of staying home will be easier to handle. You’re not sure what this feeling you are experiencing is called (adults call it anxiety and depression). Your heart is broken and you feel ashamed and rejected.

Adults preach that the future looks bright and that there is a big world out there. However, that sounds so far out of reach that they might as well be speaking about you as a character in a sci-fi movie. For now, all you are is lonely.

You’re no longer part of WhatsApp groups and Facebook friends have unfriended you and you aren’t being ‘tagged’ in posts anymore either. The only traces of your existence on social media platforms are the horrible, personal and hurtful comments being posted by the bullies.

“We need to put all devices away for a set period every day, sit around the dinner table and have conversations.”

All of this leads to trouble at home, unsatisfied teachers and a wider gap between you and the friends you once had. Everything gets darker and the safest place to be is alone, with your own distorting thoughts. The only way out, it seems, is the thought of committing suicide.

While this sounds quite dramatic, the rejection and depression young people experience through cyberbullying is the reality that has sadly led to many people committing suicide.

Cyberbullying statistics (globally and nationally)

The concept of bullying is not new and no matter your age, you’ve probably been exposed to it at some stage in your life. Bullies are no longer just causing trouble on the playground, though. Their devastating impact now exceeds physical barriers with the use of digital media to bully someone on a continuous basis by using a combination of text, images, video and sound.

Cyberbullying has become a hot topic, but it is easy to underestimate the impact and the prevalence of it in South Africa. An Ipsos Global Advisor study reported that “Global awareness of cyberbullying is increasing, however 1 in 4 adults globally have still never heard of it. In South Africa, 88% report being aware of it and almost three-quarters of South Africans believe that anti-bullying measures are insufficient.”

South Africa showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying, with more than half of the parents knowing about a child in their community who had been a victim off cyberbullying. Unfortunately, the figure indicated an increase of 24% from 2011. A quarter of the South African parents said their own children were cyberbullied.

In the US there was a 27% increase since 2011, with parents who reported that their children were cyberbullied. However, parents in Japan and Russia were least likely to report knowing a child in their community who had been cyberbullied.

While these statistics give us more insight, I cannot help but wonder how many cases are unreported and not being counted. This is why SaveTNet Cyber Safety was established to ensure that we create more awareness and offer help through a network of forensic analysts, psychologists, the relevant people at the police and other bullying solutions.

What are the effects of cyberbullying on self-esteem?

Because cyberbullying happens over a period of time and isn’t a once off incident, it takes the victim through a cycle which includes elements such as anxiety, social isolation and increased vulnerability.

That said, other factors such as depression, circumstances at home, trauma history and the quality of your relationship with your children could contribute to the situation in either a positive or negative way.

I have noticed that the youth are not only forming their identity through physical relationships and their upbringing anymore, but that they are intensely impacted by what is being said online.

This is why we need to put all devices away for a set period every day, sit around the dinner table and have conversations. This can be quite challenging for us as adults too (we’ll talk about digital addiction another day).

family-dinner

Building a strong relationship and knowing your child well enough to sense and notice when something is wrong could be the difference between life and death.

Consequences of cyberbullying on the individual

It is devastating to think that in some cases cyberbullying leads to death and we should take note of people who have lost their lives. Have a look at this list of suicides attributed to bullying to read and learn from real-life stories. This is the reality and through information on cyberbullying suicide stats etc. we need to empower ourselves as parents to help our children to deal with it in the right way.

child-on-ipad
Image: Igor Starkov/Unsplash

How do you deal with cyberbullying?

Conversations and open communication are key, as we need to talk about acceptable online behaviour. By doing this, we can better ensure young people understand the risks of not only being a victim of cyberbullying, but also of being the actual bully.

As parents you could also:

  • Be a Facebook friend, with the intention to observe (and never to comment please).
  • Teach children to not respond to messages that could be seen as bullying or harassment.
  • Take a screen grab or photo of the messages as evidence and discuss the interaction with your child offline.
  • Set a good example when posting messages to friends or on social platforms such as news sites. Remember, your kids will be able to see it if they Google your name.
  • There are many resources available on the internet and I encourage you to watch videos on the subject as well and use it as a conversation starter with your children.

Education and support are the first steps in eradicating cyberbullying. I would like you to remember that your value is not determined by what is being said online, because you were marvellously and wonderfully made.

Also read:

Bullying behaviour in our school-going children
Aligning digital values: A guide for families