A new generation was born into a digital world that thrives on constant connectivity. Of course, this environment has its benefits and opportunities, but also comes with significant risks for children and teens around the world; cyberbullying being one of them.
South Africa recognises Anti-Bullying Week from 11-15 November 2019. This is a good time for parents, schools, children and communities to give cyberbullying due attention and awareness.
What exactly is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying refers to the use of digital media to deliberately communicate hostile, false or embarrassing information to, or about, another person. Although cyberbullying can take many forms, any digital content intended to have a negative effect on another person can be construed as cyberbullying.
A high prevalence of cyberbullying in South Africa
In a recent report by Ipsos Global, South Africa showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying – based on research in 28 countries.
The report showed that:
- Over 80% of South Africans said they were aware of cyberbullying.
- Almost three-quarters of those surveyed believe that the anti-bullying measures that are in place are insufficient.
Even before seeing the actual statistics, we all know that cyberbullying is real, and that it’s harming South African teenagers and children on a daily basis.
Here are some examples of what cyberbullying looks like:
- Using negative, harmful, false content to embarrass or threaten someone.
- Sharing of personal or private information that may cause the victim to feel embarrassed or humiliated.
- Faking profiles (‘catfishing’) and pretending to be a person to create a false relationship – sometimes sharing the personal and confidential declarations made in confidence.
- Sexting or sextortion.
- Sharing of videos or any content of someone being embarrassed, threatened or hurt.
The 4 parties involved in cyberbullying
- The cyberbully.
- The victim.
- The bystanders (those who are often aware that something cruel is happening, but choose on the sidelines out of indifference or fear of becoming targets themselves).
- The upstanders (those who actively try to stop the cyberbullying cycle). They do so by standing up to the bully, sticking up for the victim, or notifying the appropriate authorities.
We need to encourage children and teens to be upstanders, and to forge open paths of communication to talk about how we can prevent cyber-bullying.
What can parents do?
Firstly, it’s important to talk openly with your children about cyberbullying. You may be surprised to hear how many young people (and adults too) simply aren’t aware or don’t think about the extent of the cyberbullying problem, how different people are sensitive to different things, and how images, posts and words can hurt people, and even have a long-term impact.
Just because your child is savvy with their device and technology, it doesn’t mean that they have the maturity to handle what they say and do on it.
Important issues to address with your child:
Cyberbullying events must be recorded. This is as simple as using the device to take a screenshot, which is then stored in a safe place.
In most cases, the bully is looking for a reaction, so tell your child not to give them one.
School, parents and communities need to create safe spaces for children to discuss the issues affecting them. By reacting too abruptly, parents and teachers can snowball or magnify the problem, so let your child know that you are there for them, no matter the incident.
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
- Listen to your child as they describe the cyberbullying incident. Avoid interrupting, and listen without blame or judgement.
- Ask questions gently to discover the details of the cyberbullying.
- Ask your child to show you evidence of the cyberbullying and save it in case documentation should be needed at a later stage.
- Acknowledge and recognise your child’s pain. Allow them to express these feelings through anger, fear, embarrassment and confusion; be there for them, withholding judgement.
- Ask your child to be honest with you and document any forms of retaliation they may have taken.
After asking the appropriate questions, understanding the problem, understanding the role your child played and how your child feels, you can then take immediate steps to address the cyberbullying issue, such as:
- Blocking cyberbullies from contacting them online.
- Reporting cyberbullies to service providers where the cyberbullying took place.
- If you know the cyberbully and their parents personally, consider having a conversation to resolve the issue (only do so if you’re confident that you won’t get upset or act in a way you may regret later).
- If the bullying occurred at school, contact the person at school in charge of disciplinary measures to ask about how the school policy and how the school deals with cyberbullying issues.
We hope this information has been helpful. Let’s work together to help stamp out cyberbullying in South Africa.