Safer Internet Day is a global initiative held each year on the 8th of February. This year’s theme is calling for everyone to ‘play it safe and fair online.’
Unfortunately, our reality today is far from this. In fact, cyberbullying and online abuse continues to be a serious issue impacting all ages with increasing rates of youth suicide and older male suicide both being linked to online bullying.
According to the eSafety Commissioner 1 in 5 Australian young people reported being socially excluded, threatened, or abused online. Of those, 55% sought help from their parents, 28% from their friends with 38% blocking the offending social media account and 12% reporting the issue to the website or platform.
Further to this, 1 in 5 Australia young people (15% of kids and 24% of teens) admitted to behaving in a negative way to a peer online – such as name calling, deliberately excluding, or spreading lies or rumours. Of these, more than 90% had had a negative online experience themselves.
We could spend days talking about why this is occurring for our youth, specifically, why young people feel the urge to put down and bully one another. Is it perhaps their upbringing, their insecurities, or feelings of neglect? Is it that they aren’t held accountable in their own homes to live with decency and respect towards others? It is not in our innate nature to harm, though some may argue with this statement when they see then end result of behaviours that do in fact harm. Regardless, the sad reality is that bullying, an age-old issue for human beings, has now moved onto the airwaves and it’s happening in mass proportions.
So what’s Next? How can parents and carers respond to youth experiencing online bullying?
Whilst ever jealousies and unresolved hurts exist, so too will the potential for bullying.
As parents we can play an important role in stopping this cycle of abuse in our youth. Children need an upbringing and education that is based on building respectful, caring and loving relationships so they know the difference between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. This in turn supports the young person to get a sense of their true selves as well as enable them to be more confident in expressing that true self around others.
The first and most important thing we can do as parents is to ensure we bring this same level of respect and care into our home and relationships. Role models are vital in times like this and children know instinctively if you aren’t walking your talk.
Talking to a teenager about not participating in certain behaviours that you still do is like talking to a brick wall – it’s not going to be heard. It’s like seeking advice from a bankrupt financial advisor, why would you listen to anything they advised about building your wealth?
In some situations, the parent is role modelling non bullying behaviour and when this is the case, and the child is still acting out then it’s time to look deeper into what’s going on behind the scenes. You may discover that the bullying behaviour is coming from an unresolved hurt or issue and the child/teens way of communicating this is to protect themselves by putting another or others down. Clear consequences delivered without judgement or ridicule can support set boundaries around the behaviour. In extreme cases a behavioural specialist may support.
In the case where your child is being bullied talk to your child about how they are feeling and be discerning about what is playing out. Avoid feeding into the victim mentality and support your child to feel empowered to address the abuse they are receiving in a mature, steadfast way. Additional support may be needed in terms of a counsellor or a course of action to ensure the bullying behaviour is exposed. This may involve school or police authorities. Other action could involve removing social media apps from your child’s device in consultation with them.
‘There is no place for online abuse. We can all help make life online enjoyable by being kind and respectful to each other’ ~ eSafety Commissioner (1)
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(1) Office of the eSafety Commissioner: https://www.esafety.gov.au/newsroom/whats-on/safer-internet-day-2022 (sited on January 6th 2022).