October may be National Cyber Security Awareness Month, but we all know that staying safe online is a year around 24 x 7 activity, especially for parents with digitally savvy children. With children spending more and more time online, making sure they are safe has become imperative and it is hardly surprising that they must now face a new challenge – bullying on the internet or “cyberbullying”
Cyberbullying is scarier than “normal” bullying. While the regular bullying is restricted to home or school, cyberbullying can happen any time and of course, just about anytime can be a victim – child or adult.
Why is cyberbullying rampant?
Bullying on the internet is easy. The bully hides in anonymity – under a fake name. The bullying happens via emails, text messages and chat rooms accessible to a large audience, multiplying the victim’s misery. Just one message online is enough to make it go viral. We hear of so many cases of nasty multimedia messages distributed in seconds online and embarrassing the heck out of the victim! The terrible thing is – cyberbullying can happen even when it is not intended, through a seemingly innocent email forward to hundreds of people. And it never goes away!
Can we stop the cyberbullying epidemic?
We can and we should. The most effective solution is knowledge and awareness.
Cyberbullying can happen in multiple ways – unkind online posts, photos, threatening online, harassing someone, posting negative comments, stalking via emails/websites/social networks and of course, the omnipotent sms! And let’s not forget instant messaging, forums, gaming sites, blogs – in fact, almost anywhere online.
Cyberbullies are everywhere, waiting to hurt someone. There are scary instances of cyberbullies in the guise of family friends or even neighbors.
While anyone can be a victim of cyberbullying, teenagers and children are more prone to it. With schools becoming technologically advanced and computers becoming a part of education, online bullying has become easier. The consequences can be life-shattering and one of the worst outcomes is suicide. According to Medical News Today, Cyberbullying ‘causes suicidal thoughts in kids more than traditional bullying‘ The public humiliation drives them to end their lives when they can no longer bear the shame and hurt.
So should we care?
Yes. If your children use the internet or carry their own cell phones, double yes. Technology is a necessary part of life. At least, when it comes to normal bullying, the bully has a face and a name and one can take action – with cyberbullying it is harder thanks to the anonymity.
No one deserves to be bullied. The effects can be devastating, emotionally crippling the child and destroy their self-esteem. A victim never feels safe again. The worst thing is, they are too scared to communicate as they’re afraid and embarrassed to admit that they’ve been browsing sites they had no business visiting in the first place.
How can you recognize cyberbullying?
Naturally, there are signs. Make it a habit to keep track of computer and mobile phone use and look for unusual behaviour. Why, there are apps like eKavach that enable you monitor your child’s online activities.
Look for the following signs:
- When your child gets annoyed at being restricted from using the computer or phone
- Abruptly closes screens or changes them when you are around
- Is addicted to the computer
- Refuses to tell you what she is up to online
- Looks nervous when there’s a message alert and won’t read it in your presence.
- Is secretive
- Spends time alone
- School grades dip
- Doesn’t eat well, sleep well
Some of all of the above are cause for worry. And time to take action.
Can you prevent cyberbullying?
Let’s face it. Today’s parents have no choice but to practice digital parenting and monitor their children’s’ browsing habits, if only to keep them safe.
So what to do when faced with an instance of cyberbullying? Educate them. Knowledge is power. And it all starts with communication. Make your child aware of what is cyberbullying; understand what it implies and what to do when faced with a suspicious situation. Let them know they can trust you and talk to you about anything and count on your support. Instruct them not to respond or try to get back at the bully as that will make things worse. Above all, let them know they don’t have to be ashamed.
As parents, the best way to show your child love is spend time with them.