Cyber Bullying: Building resilience in children in the face of online Trolls
Australian families are more connected to technology and the internet than ever before. According to the 2016 Census, 97% of Australian households with children under 15 have access to the internet. The startling statistic though is the average number of devices per household, seven. While the increase in connectivity and access to information on the internet has been beneficial for aspects of education and social development, it can be nearly impossible for children to escape its negative effects. One of the more prevalent issues children face online is cyber bullying. An estimated one in five Australian children between the ages of eight and thirteen has been the target of cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying can take many forms and its definition has changed as different forms of communication become available. Cyber bullying is over time, and includes (but is not limited to): mean, nasty or threatening text messages/instant messages/pictures/video clips/emails that are sent directly to a person or others via a mobile phone or the Internet. Similarities between “offline” bullying are numerous and the same power imbalance, threatening behaviour and intent to harm are common to both. Cyber bullying differs in a number of areas that present challenges when trying to combat it. For example, cyber bullying is more likely to be experienced outside of school, and the perpetrators are more likely to be anonymous. This can make it hard for children to reconcile the behaviour against the real world and results in less children informing an adult they are being bullied.
Some common signs of cyber bullying:
- Socialising less with friends and family
- Reducing time online or being jumpy when getting text or emails
- Avoiding school and dropping out of sports and other activities
- Feeling anxious, sad, embarrassed, angry or physically sick
Online safety starts with parents
Cyber bullying presents a unique problem in that in many cases, children are more proficient and knowledgeable than their parents on the technology platform. If a parent is unaware of how the platforms their children use to communicate operate it is virtually impossible to monitor and regulate the activity on that platform. The first step to ensuring the safety of your child online is to be well aware of the programs and platforms they use to communicate with friends and family. A moderate level of monitoring has been shown to be effective in guiding children through social media and internet usage, and younger children have shown they actually want their parents to take more interest in their internet usage.2 Excessive monitoring above checking screens and blocking harmful websites can actually stifle children’s development online, as it does not allow them to learn online safety skills independently.
Building resilience in children is not about avoiding difficult situations
Resilience building programs for children do not advocate for the removal of children from difficult situations. On the contrary, resilience is to be developed by interacting with these scenarios first in a supported environment and with the knowledge of why and how they occur. Armed with knowledge and support, your child is more likely to be open and honest regarding their online dealings. Remind your child you are there to support them without judgement, take the time to talk to them about cyber bullying and how and why it occurs. Be open to listening and understanding their experience of cyber bullying. Many adults brush aside cyber bullying as being ‘not real’ due to existing online, however the effects are anything but not real to a child experiencing bullying.
Engage with your child’s school and other support groups
Many schools run information sharing sessions on cyber bullying in order to decrease the anxiety and depression suffered by students and some teachers and staff of schools have been given professional training on combating the effects of cyber bullying in schools. In New South Wales, the PCYC has teamed up with NSW Police and schools to run cyber safety programs for parents, teachers and children. Dominic Teakle, CEO of PCYC NSW is a large driver behind this initiative and believes "It is critical to have open and honest discussions with young people about the internet, particularly social media use". The Safer Internet Day presentation will be held at PCYC Wagga Wagga on February 5 and more plans are underway to roll out the program further.
What to do if your child is being cyber bullied
- Notify the school
- Find out more about the school’s anti-bullying policies
- Help keep a record of the bullying for future reference
- Report serious cases of cyber bullying to the Police
- Help your child to understand the behaviour of the ‘bully’
- Suggest your child ‘block’ or remove the bully from their friend list
- Help them spend time away from the computer and mobile phone by engaging them in other fun activities
- Check out the eSafety website for more information on cyber bullying and access to their reporting and complaints system
Emotional resilience is like a muscle; it can be worked on and developed over time. Children are in a dynamic stage of their development and are open ideas and forces that could shape their development in a positive or negative way. It is important to spend time developing your child’s ability to understand the nature and consequences of cyber bullying in order to strengthen their ability to become resilient in the face of it. Resilience building programs for children and adults focus on creating these pathways and offer a number of activities and ideas on how to start at home.