With more and more children stepping into cyberspace via social media, the incidence of cyberbullying is becoming increasingly common. So, what exactly is cyberbullying? It is about bullying a child - teen or pre-teen - using the Internet and digital technology. Cyberbullying can take many forms, including threats, harassment, and humiliation. The term 'cyberbullying' is used when both the perpetrator and the victim are minors (and when the perpetrators are adults, it is called 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. The intention is to damage the victim's self-esteem or outrage modesty.
In a survey conducted by Norton, it was found that 52 percent of Indian children were victims of cybercrime. About 18 percent of children said that they had experienced online bullying. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, "Adolescent girls are significantly more likely to have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes (40.6% vs. 28.2%)."
With incidents of cyberbullying increasing, many parents are asking questions like 'How to prevent cyberbullying' How to protect my child from bullying', 'How to stop bullying in social media', 'How and where to report cyberbullying', 'What is the punishment for cyberbullying'.
How to stop cyberbullying?
Observant parents can spot signs of cyberbullying in their children. These include:
Having low self-esteem
Making excuses to stay away from school
Avoiding social events and remaining in isolation
Losing weight or changing appearance to try and fit into a group
Having marks on the body that could indicate self-harm; dressing inappropriately - e.g. wearing long-sleeved clothes in summer - in an attempt to hide such marks
Exhibiting personality changes such as disproportionate anger, depression, crying spells, and withdrawal
Children who face cyberbullying are also reluctant to let their parents or relatives near their mobile phones or laptops.
What you can do to protect your child from cyberbullying
Parents need to reassure their child that she will not be punished if she reveals that she is being cyberbullied. They must reassure their child that she is not to be blamed for being bullied on the Internet. Usually, if the child can be encouraged to open up to a parent or any other responsible adult, the issue can be sorted out quickly. Here's what parents can do to protect their child from cyberbullying:
Be aware: Parents must develop awareness about cyberbullying and talk about cases of cyberbullying.
Discourage bullying: Parents must emphasize to their children how wrong it is for anyone to send mean or damaging messages, or suggestive pictures and messages. Agreed upon consequences, such as confiscation of cell phones for a time, and revoking of privileges, must be enforced for breaking this rule.
Ensure password protection: The child must be made to understand the importance of not sharing passwords with anyone except a parent. Passwords can be written down and saved safely and where they can be accessed by the parents.
Convey that privacy matters: The child must be made aware that individuals she communicates with online may not be who they say they are. Also, materials posted online may not be secure. So, the child should not upload anything that she would not want others to see.
Earmark common area for devices: Make sure that the computer used by the child is kept in a shared space like the family room. Internet access in the privacy of the child's room shouldn't be allowed.
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 should wait till their child is in high school to allow her to have her own e-mail and cell phone accounts. Even after giving these facilities, parents must ensure that they know their child's passwords. They should make it clear to their child that they reserve the option of accessing her accounts.
What to do if your child is a victim of cyberbullying
Save offensive messages as proof that cyberbullying is occurring. Depending on the severity of the bullying (threatening or sexual), parents may talk to the perpetrator's parents (if the bully is a child known to them), Internet or cell phone provider, and/or the police.
Use the 'Block Contact' or other option available on the gadgets to prevent the cyberbully from contacting the child. Parents may also opt to get a new phone number or e-mail address. However, in this case, the child must be cautioned about not disclosing the new number or address to anyone outside the family circle.
Report the offense to the Cyber Crime Cell. Complaints can be made to Cyber Crime Units in any city, irrespective of the place where the crime is committed.
To sum up, if you have even a faint doubt that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, act immediately. For, as a parent, it is your responsibility to protect your child from every danger, which also includes online threats.
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