Cyberbullying takes place in the online world but it’s a real threat that can turn your child’s life (and consequently, yours too) upside down. Arm yourself with the know-how to deal with it now.
Cyberbullying is a new ‘threat’ that 21st century children (and their parents) have to deal with. In Singapore, especially, where children as young as eight use gadgets on a daily basis, this danger is very real.
Of children between the ages of eight and 12 years old in Singapore:
• 54% have been exposed to at least one form of cyber-risk. These include cyberbullying, video game addiction, and online grooming (the global average is 56 per cent)
• 43% have been cyberbullied
These findings from the 2018 DQ Impact Report by the DQ Institute, a public-private-civic-academic coalition in association with the World Economic Forum that aims to bring quality digital intelligence education to every child, are sobering.
Your child is at risk, or perhaps already a victim of cyberbullying. And you don’t know it.
A 2017 TOUCH Cyber Wellness survey showed that parents and educators are usually the last to know about cyberbullying cases. Children do not actively seek help for cyberbullying. Instead, they prefer to try to solve or manage the incident by themselves, or get help from friends. In addition, they fear negative reactions from parents, or a ban on the internet or social media.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying encompasses many different online actions. These are the most common ones, shares Senior Director of Children & Youth, TOUCH Community Services, Anita Low-Lim.
Flaming/Roasting: posting mean-spirited words to deliberately humiliate and insult the victim.
Exclusion: the victim is intentionally left out of an online chat/group.
Harassment: the cyberbully sends hurtful and threatening messages to the victim. The harassment can take place 24/7, due to the nature of technology.
Impersonation: the cyberbully impersonates the victim online and damages the victim’s reputation.
Uploading of embarrassing media: a photo/video of the victim (may or may not be digitally altered) is uploaded to embarrass him/her.
While there is no specific type of cyberbullying that is more prevalent in Singapore, the more common ones that Ms Low-Lim has come across in her work with youth include exclusion, flaming, and uploading of embarrassing media.
Somewhat worryingly (to us parents), the Media Literacy Council member also reveals that “many of our cyberbullying cases also involve physical bullying”.
How does Cyberbullying Affect Children?
As with traditional bullying, cyberbullying has adverse effects on children. They may suffer from negative physical and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, suicidal thoughts and ideas, health complaints, and poor academic performance.
Ms Low-Lim recalls how a nine-year-old boy was being bullied in school and this physical bullying evolved into cyberbullying when a WhatsApp chat was created specially to torment him. The boy was badly affected by the incident.
“One of our youth counsellors helped him to process his emotions and worked together with him to plan out strategies to cope with the situation and counter the bullying,” she explains. “In the end, the boy and his schoolmates managed to work out their differences and became friends again.”
(See also: Help your Child Cope with Bullying)
Signs and Symptoms that a Child is a Victim of Cyberbullying
“The best way to know if your child is a victim of cyberbullying is to establish open communication with them,” says Ms Low-Lim. In addition, observe your child for changes in mood, behaviour, or habits.
Help your child understand that home is a safe environment for them to openly share their problems, she adds. Do not judge or rush to assign blame. Instead, listen with an open mind.
Look out for the following:
* Change in internet usage habits
* Becoming more socially withdrawn
* A marked change in behaviour
* Decline in academic performance
How Parents can Help
If you think your child is being cyberbullied, there are things you can do to help, says Ms Low-Lim.
1. Empathise. “Do not make light of the situation or ask your child to simply ignore or brush it off,” she advises. Instead, talk to your child, seek to understand the situation, and be a pillar of support for them in their time of distress.
2. Work together with your child to determine what they can do about the situation, and what their options are. Then empower them to handle the situation. This process can also help your child to understand different perspectives and develop empathy for others.
3. Do not react negatively towards the situation. This is important. If you can stay calm, your child will feel secure enough to share and speak up if something similar happens again.
“As parents, we cannot possibly anticipate all harm that may come upon our children. However that should not stop us from expressing our concern when we realise what’s happening,” the mother of three grown children shares.
“The best solution is to work towards enhancing a healthy self-esteem in our children, and for them to appreciate family support,” she adds.
“Resist venting your anger on them and refrain from judging the situation or their response or the friends they make. Our children do not always want a ‘technical’ answer from us, but rather, our support, empathy and presence in their lives.”
Learn more about cyberbullying and how you can help your child to deal with it at the Better Internet Conference 2019 (11 March, 9am – 5pm, at the Singapore Institute of Technology) where Ms Low-Lim is giving a talk titled: “What About The Children? Digital Problems Facing Adolescents”. More details about the conference and the talks can be found here.
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