With more and more children entering cyberspace via social media, cyberbullying is a problem that is becoming increasingly common. Cyberbullying is the targeting of a child – teen or pre-teen – using the Internet and digital technology. It can take many forms, including threats, harassment and humiliation. The term is used when both perpetrator and victim are minors (when the perpetrators are adults, it escalates to cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking). Cyberbullying includes sending negative text messages, e-mails and audio messages, sharing the victim’s personal information, personal photos or videos on social media or blogs, or morphing pictures with the intention of bringing down the victim’s self-esteem or outraging modesty.
A survey conducted by Norton (an anti-malware software brand from the house of Symantec), 52 per cent of the children in India are victims of cybercrime and other online negative situations. About 18 per cent said they had been bullied online. As far as gender ratios go, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, an online resource, “Adolescent girls are significantly more likely to have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes (40.6% vs. 28.2%).”
It is important for parents to understand the seriousness of the problem and help and protect their children. Worryingly, 84 per cent of the parents surveyed in the country said they did not think their children were being bullied online. While the Norton study noted that, “70 per cent [of the] children surveyed did say they reached out to their parents when they experienced anything negative online, parents still need to educate themselves and provide confidence to their children to share their bad online experiences with them or another adult.”
Observant parents will be able to detect signs that their children are prey to cyberbullying. These include a reluctance to let parents and other relatives near their mobile phones or laptops, and a desire to spend time alone. Parents need to reassure their children that they will not be punished if they reveal that they are being cyber-bullied. They should repeatedly tell the child that she is not to be blamed for being bullied. Usually, if the child can be encouraged to open up quickly to a parent or other responsible adult, the issue can be sorted out.
Signs that your child is facing cyberbullying
- Has low self-esteem
- Makes excuses to stay away from school
- Avoids social events and remains in isolation
- Loses weight or changes appearance to try and fit into a group
- Has marks on the body that could indicate self-harm; dressing inappropriately – e.g. wearing long-sleeved clothes in summer – could be an attempt to hide such marks
- Exhibits personality changes such as disproportionate anger, depression, crying spells, and withdrawal
What you can do to protect your child from cyberbullying
- Be aware: Parents must themselves develop awareness about cyberbullying and talk openly about cyberbullying cases.
- Discourage bullying: Parents must insist that their children must not send mean or damaging messages, or suggestive pictures and messages, even in retaliation against such messages sent by someone else. Strict punishments, such as confiscation of cell phones and revoking of privileges, must be enforced for breaking this rule.
- Ensure password protection: Children must be strictly told not to reveal their passwords to anyone except a parent, or write it down where it can be accessed by others.
- Convey that privacy matters: Children must be made aware that people they communicate with online may not be who they say they are, and that material posted online may not be secure. Parents should insist that children should not upload anything that they would not want made public.
- Earmark common area for devices: Make sure that the computer is kept in a shared space like the family room, and do not allow children to have Internet access in the privacy of their own rooms.
- Limit time spent on devices: Encourage children to turn off technology at set times, such as family meals or after a certain hour at night.
- Keep the option of access open: Parents may want to wait till their children are in high school to allow them to have their own e-mail and cell phone accounts. Even after giving them these facilities, parents should ensure that they know their children’s passwords, and make it clear that they reserve the option of accessing the accounts.
What to do if your child is a victim of cyberbullying
- Save offensive messages as proof that the cyberbullying is occurring. Depending on the severity of the bullying (threatening or sexual) parents may want to talk to the cyberbully’s parents, Internet or cell phone provider, and/or the police.
- Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or e-mail address. Be cautious about giving out the new number or address.
- Report the offence to the Cyber Crime Cell. Complaints can be made to Cyber Crime Units at any city, irrespective of the place where the crime is committed.
Mumbai-based Prabhjyot Kaur is a part of the Safecity Writer’s Movement.