The Rise Of Cyberbullying in Children

**Settle in with a cup of tea because this is going to be a long one, an important one, but a long one none the less. I want to point out before you read that I did a lot of research into kids and social media and kids and cyber bullying, I talked to kids for this post and I talked to parents as well. I am writing this from my point of view, which is someone who has lived through an age where cyber bullying was just getting started, and is now still here for the rise of cyber bullies.**

Image from here

When I was growing up the rule was we weren't allowed a mobile phone until the age of 12 and it was even later that we were allowed to have social media. Today, kids as young as eight are already signing up to the social media band wagon, kids that haven't even hit double figures yet are being exposed to a much older, much scarier world. 

Once upon a time bullying was limited to being a physical act, if you wanted to bully someone you had to get up and physically do it. With the advancement of technology and today's society it is much easier to be a bully, you can do it from the comfort of your own bed, you can do it anonymously, you can do it without being too fussed about it at all. 

One in three boys and one in four girls as young as eight are experiencing weekly cyber bullying- these one in four and one in three are also likely to be being physically bullied as well, they have a high risk of anxiety and mental illness and their self esteem and confidence is likely plummeting. According to research your kids are more likely to be cyber-bullied by people they know in real life, if they engage in risky online behaviors such as password sharing and if they spend a lot of time online. 

Cyber bullying is worse than physical bullying. It's inescapable, it's relentless and it is always there. Most people have their phone with them or at least nearby them at all times making it so easy for bullies to be in constant contact, 24 hours of the day. You can put your phone down but it still there for you to look at when you pick it back up again, cyber bullying doesn't go away and it makes life unbearably hard for anyone experiencing it. Take the recent case of Amy "Dolly" Everett, she was only 14 when she saw no other way out of cyber-bullying than to take her own life. Or Amanda Todd who was only 15, a grade ten student when she was found to have hung herself after trying time and time again to escape cyber-bullies and failing. 

As parents of today's kids I am willing to bet cyber-bullying is a bit of a foreign concept to you- you never experienced it when you were growing up because life wasn't all about technology and it was a completely new idea to you when your child's school began preaching the importance of being on the look out for cyber bullying.

Cyber bullies are going to continue to rise whether we like it or not. The allure of seemingly not having consequences to their actions and the safety of being hidden behind a screen is what keeps these bullies in action.

There is six types of cyber bullying and you need to know about each and every one of them. There is no popular mode of cyber bullying, no type that is more harmful than the other and often they are all used in conjunction with each other to create maximum effect.

  1. Harassment.
    The intention is to harass, threaten or cause embarrassment for the target via methods such as spreading rumors, sending threats, sharing embarrassing information about the target via any form of technology or social media. 
  2. Impersonation.
    Often done by creating a profile under the targets name, stealing the password to already existing account or stealing the targets photos and using them on another account. From here the accounts are used to create issues for the victim. From posting inappropriate (sexual and racist content is common) posts, posting as the victim in chat rooms such as hate groups and dating sites, to catfishing (using a fake profile to spark relationships with people online) people.
  3. Stealing photographs.
    To continue on from the above- not only can someone steal the photographs of the victim they can also take and distribute, for example taking a degrading photo of a person at the local swimming pool without permission. Images can be used to blackmail the victim, as well as posted on photo sharing sites such as Instagram and Facebook in order to embarrass. I have also seen nude photos being sent to mass audiences through group chats and text messaging.
  4. Creating sites.
    The creation of websites, blogs and profiles for the soul purpose of humiliating and insulting people. These sites often post rumors and gossip, as well as the targets personal information. Often all content shared with the purpose of insulting, humiliating or causing embarrassment to the target. 
  5. Video shaming.
    This includes videoing bullying incidents and posting them to social media to reach mass audiences. Often this method is found to be used on teachers, we've all seen the videos of students bullying and causing upset to the teacher and in turn that video is seen by large amounts of people via social media. 
  6. Subtweeting
    This is any social media content that doesn't mention any names, but the bully, the victim and a larger audience are very aware of who the post is about. These often go undetected by parents and teachers because of the names not being mentioned.     
Now you know the types of bullying, you need to know the signs a child is being cyber bullied and what to do if you suspect your child is. The most common time for cyber bullying is during the transition from primary school to high school which really, is about the time kids are being let loose in the world of social media. 

Signs your child is being cyberbullied: 
  • A willing reduction of time spent online, jumpiness when notification tone sounds;
  • Changing friendship groups, withdrawing themselves from social situations with friends and family; 
  • Self esteem and confidence levels dropping;
  • Emotional changes such as more anxious, sad, embarrassed, angry;
  • Using tactics to avoid going to school, not doing things they used to enjoy (such as after school activities);
  • Noticeable behavioral changes, self harm.
So, what can you do if you see these signs in your child? Your first instinct is probably to ban them from all social media- isn't it? No social media- no bullying, right? Wrong. Not only will your child see this as them being punished for someone else doing the wrong thing, kids are always going to find a way. You take their phone away, they use their friends phone. Banning social media just isn't realistic for the age we live in. More effective ways of dealing with cyber bullying can include:
  • Communicate with your child.
    Know that most kids will not freely admit to their parents or any adults that they are being bullied. If you suspect that your child is being bullied make sure you keep the lines of communication open, but if they think they are going to be the ones who suffer the consequences, they will shut down. Offer support and communicate your concerns to your child, as well as communicating feedback between each other. 
  • Communicate with the school.
    A large part of your child day and life is spent at school, so it make sense that they should be informed of any bullying activity going on. A lot of schools have anti-bullying policies and many run workshops and the like to deal with bullying and cyber bullying. 
  • Don't respond, don't delete.
    Encourage your child to resist the temptation to defend themselves, responding and giving the bully a reaction is exactly what they want. However, you should not delete any messages either- in the future these may be necessary evidence of the bullying. 
  • Remove and block.
    All social media websites have a function that allows for a user to be blocked or removed from being able to access the profile of the victim, or send messages to them- encourage your child to use that feature. It may be necessary to change the mobile number of your child also in extreme cases. 
  • Talk about privacy.
    The amount of times I have logged into social media and rolled my eyes at notorious over-sharers. Some people, especially kids, don't understand privacy and what should an should not be shared on social media. Explain the risks of oversharing. 
The access that has been made readily available to people now with the advancement of technology, is both a good thing and a bad thing- when used in the wrong way. Everyone needs to be in the fight against cyber bullying, not just parents and kids. 

Please remember that any type of bullying can be harmful, especially to children, however it can be a touchy subject. If your child feels uncomfortable talking to the adults around them kids helpline can be reached in multiple ways: phone 1800 55 1800, email or even WebChat with them.