Our recent special event webinar was presented by Internet Professional and Media Educator Rebecca Asquith and hosted by Parents at Work Founder Emma Walsh.

Cyber bullying and social media pressure is a fascinating and super hot issue at the moment – one that is very serious and can have lasting effects on our children and the wider community if it goes unaddressed.

What’s astounding is that Australia still doesn’t have much in the way of legislation that  focuses on Internet-specific guidelines. As New Zealand and other countries lead the way it’s time we start talking and put the spotlight on why it’s rattling so many young people into doing and feeling things that aren’t natural or healthy for them.

So what is Cyber Bulling?

Rebecca explained that cyber bulling is different from school yard bullying because it has greater public effect and it can spread like wild fire: “One photo can be shared through three schools in one day. So it’s not confined to a situation or where they are… The Internet is in their pocket right now. The intensity of it is huge.”

“It’s important to call it cyber abuse because otherwise we are minimising it.”

“The lack of accountability that comes with anonymity has resulted in major abuse.”

Rebecca likened the need for laws around cyber bullying to getting a car licence. To learn how to drive safely on the roads and get penalised for driving dangerously or being at risk of harming others we need to create parameters and laws to keep our roads safe. As the Internet stands now we need this support structure online too. Rebecca adds: “It doesn’t have to be like Big Brother to make people accountable on Internet. There’s a cultural shift that needs to happen to get the decency and care needed… it doesn’t have to be restrictive of true expression. It’s time to have a sensible conversation about it.”

The Power of the Internet – for good or for bad?

The Internet now is our largest public space.

“With the Internet there is an amazing power we have – everyone now is a publisher. With that power there comes a huge amount of responsibility.”

From her experience with working with young people and speaking at conferences Rebecca calls this a whole community issue as she can see how acutely it is affecting young people. As she highlights, what’s interesting is that it’s actually the young people who are saying we need accountability online. “It’s their voice that’s saying we need better safe guards on the Internet”.

What are young people experiencing?

“A lot of young people’s concerns were the pressures around posting certain types of pictures… It’s a question of how much are they going to reveal themselves on the Internet.”

There are these two disparate worlds going on – one on social media and one face-to-face… or as Rebecca says kids are experiencing peers talking behind-their-back about the photos, posts etc. on social media and then behaving very different to their face.

“Everyone has to decide how they curate themselves online. Everyone knows what it’s like to take their first selfie – we get quite self-conscious and young people are dealing with this all the time.”

Kids are getting bullied through gaming sites like Mindcraft where older players are crushing young kids buildings and then putting videos on the Internet about it.

Young people are  finding it difficult as they are distracted from their studies, not just by the activity of posting but by mitigating what ‘reactions’ or comments they are receiving.

“One girl said: “most of my friends are online and I’ve never met them”. This particular girl had met her boyfriend online and then met him in a park.”

What can parents do to support their children?

It’s easy as a parent to justify that ‘it will be ok for my child if I put in structures’ (like parent controls or limiting time on devices) but the reality is we can’t sit in denial of what’s going to happen or what’s already going on. So how can we prepare?

Here are some of Rebecca’s top tips:

  • Start early with your kids. “What we take onto social media is our confidence in ourselves and our body awareness… so if we are hunched over we can ask ourselves what’s going on, have I stopped breathing because of the text I’m sending? This will give you an anchor or marker back to asking the questions about what may be affecting us online.”
  • Support kids to read what’s going online. Make them aware of some of the things that are going on. Help them express to you what’s going on for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to be a parent in this situation. It’s a balance – the choices you make are based on what you feel your child is ready for.
  • Spend time in nature and connecting with others.
 “Parents are in a powerful position because they can say ‘if it’s not safe for my child why is it safe for anyone?’”

Rebecca’s 4 Foundational Keys

  1. Reading beyond the text – Encourage children to express what they feel and see. Having a greater understanding of each other helps young people to support one other when things don’t go so well and build their confidence.
  2. Radars – Remember a child’s sensitivity is their greatest asset. Creating resilience or hardness is only going to shut how much kids ‘read beyond the text’. They need to be able to clock and express what they feel is not right. It can’t be just be about bouncing back or being resilient.
  3. Respect – Support kids to come to their own solutions with what they are dealing with to help build trust. A heavy-handed approach won’t work but also a ‘surly teen’ can be actually crying out for help.
  4. Reflect and Connect – Go beyond the surface questions to make sure that young people are having connection times with you.  You’re reading so much about your child all the time. It’s important to keep bringing that to the table. Connect with yourself first. It’s not about time it’s the quality – if they feel an ease and quality in your body they will have that reflected back to them. A teenager might not want a walk with you but they will clock that you are taking that time to care for yourself.

Further resources

Some excellent resources Rebecca provided including a video clearly explaining how your child can lodge a cyber bulling complaint and where they can get further help.

Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner

BullyZero Australia Foundation

For more useful tips and to get a copy of the full audio recording contact us here.

If you would like to view more free upcoming special events tap here.