As children have more access to the internet and devices in recent years, we’ve unfortunately also seen a rise in the act of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the act of bullying using digital devices and the internet. It is intended to scare, anger, or shame the intended victim and is usually a repeated behaviour, meaning it occurs multiple times to distress the victim. Some examples of cyberbullying include:
- Sharing compromising or embarrassing images of the victim without their consent
- Spreading rumours or lies about the victim
- Impersonating the victim and posting things or sending messages on their behalf to compromise their reputation
- Digital verbal abuse in messages or online games
- Prank phone calls or phone calls containing verbal abuse
While face-to-face bullying can result in physical wounds or scars, cyberbullying is often accompanied by psychological scars. Cyberbullying also leaves a digital footprint for both the aggressor and the victim. For example: if a compromising image is posted of the victim, there is a possibility that the image can be linked back to the poster, and appropriate consequences can take place. If the situation is not dealt with and the image not removed, there is also the possibility of potential employers or universities finding that image and their impression of the victim being skewed.
As a parent, it can be heart breaking to discover that your child is enduring abuse in the online world. So, what can we as parents do along with our children to stop a cyberbully once and for all?
For the children and teens falling victim to cyberbullying, the first thing is to note that what you are enduring is not your fault in the slightest. You are not responsible for the actions of someone else, you are only responsible for the way in which you react. So, do not respond to cyberbullying with more cyberbullying. Tell your bully to stop what they are doing and record any evidence of their threatening behaviour. If their behaviour is truly getting to you and upsetting you, you can block the bully and report them to the social media platform in question. If their actions go against their actions go against the South African Cybercrimes Act, they can be reported to the authorities and further actions will be taken. Know that it’s always okay to reach out for help. The first step would be to let your parents know what you are going through. Simply having a support system can help put your mind at ease.
If someone you know is being bullied don’t stand by, stand up. Standing by while someone is being bullied can empower the bully, because they see that their actions are not resulting in any consequences, so when you know of someone being bullied, make sure that you let the bully know that their actions are unacceptable and will be reported.
Remember that it’s extremely important to keep all your accounts properly protected to avoid being hacked. Ensure that you have unique passwords for all your different accounts and make sure they are hard to guess. If you’re worried that you won’t remember all your passwords, you can use a free password manager like LastPass. Password managers store all your passwords in one place, and you only need to remember one “master password” to access them.
As a parent, know that if your child approaches you for help regarding a cyberbullying situation you are extremely lucky, as many youngsters will feel embarrassed or isolated and struggle with the situation on their own. Listen, and I mean really listen to your child and let them know that they are not alone. When responding, respond thoughtfully, not quickly. If and when you do respond to the cyberbully, you should know that you can actually make the situation worse if you do not respond thoughtfully. Sometimes, if the bully finds out that a parent is now involved in the situation, it can make the bullying even worse.
We all need to work together to eradicate, or at least decrease the amount of bullying and cyberbullying that is tolerated in our society. When faced with a cyberbullying situation that you successfully overcome, your sense of resilience grows, and it enables you to feel powerful enough to help others going through the same situation. It’s not something that can be easily taught to someone else, as we grow through personal experience, but it definitely helps to assist someone going through a similar tough time.