A few extracts
Increased time spent online will most likely increase exposure to negative experiences – but also the positive opportunities. Nancy Willard, a cyberbullying expert, calls for us to work on the “understanding that the vast majority of young people want to make good choices, do not want to be harmed, and do not want to see their friends or others harmed”.7 We can’t control their whole environment, online or offline, so parents need to give their children the capability to deal with problems as they come across them.
Try: “Digiduck’s big decision” (re cyberbullying)
The start of a large section:
Taking that on board, let’s tackle another controversial issue, which has featured in frequent newspaper headlines. There have been high-profile cases, such as that of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after enduring extensive bullying online.20 Rehtaeh Parsons also committed suicide after photos of her being raped were circulated globally,21 and Olympic diver Tom
Daley was taunted in 2012.22 In early 2013, The New York Times noted that there’s been a huge surge in anti-bullying books (something I discovered in my research for this book), spurred on in part by these high-profile cases. Several of these books are designed for parents to read together with their children, and they don’t necessarily all have happy endings.23
In all of this, we have to remember that these are the worst- case scenarios, tragic in every case but usually more complex than the headlines would have us believe. Social networking may be a factor, but it’s not the only one. We need to accept this if we want society to look for the right solutions to the problem, particularly ensuring that our own children are not tempted to become bullies themselves, or to stand by while others do the bullying.
The usual problems that children have always had in relating to other children (bullying, harassment, exclusion), [are] now transferred to a digital arena.
(Grandparents, 6 to 9)
Statistics and the particular nature of online bullying
The core difference between “traditional” bullying and “online” bullying is the nature of it. Previously, bullying would typically stop at the school gates, or at least once the child got home, although there was always the potential for phone calls, notes falling out of homework books, bricks through the window, or events replaying themselves in the mind. Online bullying, however, can be constant, happening any time of day and night, affecting the child regardless of location, including at home, and leaving a feeling that there is nowhere to escape to. The other particular characteristic of online bullying is that it is much easier for others to get involved quickly. It rapidly collects and remains permanently in cyberspace, rather than being a spur-of-the-moment action. It is therefore difficult to obtain “closure” because at any time the information might resurface and another episode of bullying, with accompanying public humiliation, could kick off.
I am concerned about the ability of some digital tools to amplify and broaden the kinds of thoughtless and/or mean-spirited peer-to-peer interactions that might at one time have existed in a scrawled note.
(Parent, 10 to 12)
Vodafone quoted research from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) which indicates that at least two-thirds of teenagers have had positive experiences online, although most had witnessed mean behaviour to others, and less than a fifth reported being a target.24 Bullying is of particular concern to parents because of the emotional harm it can do and the way it can affect self-esteem, confidence, and school attendance and performance, and therefore overall life chances. Although the 2010 statistics for online-only bullying (6 per cent) are much lower than “traditional” bullying (19 per cent), the effects are felt more intensely, hence the huge concern about online bullying in particular.25 I was intrigued to see that, having shared the first few paragraphs of this section on Facebook, multiple people piled in with their experiences and suggestions of what was different, and how much impact bullying had had on their lives (even pre-digitally).
EXERCISE: Choose a video related to bullying (some examples here), and use it as a conversation starter with your children:
- http://youtu.be/ltun92DfnPY (7:36, animation, “To This Day Project”: see the backstory: http://youtu.be/ sa1iS1MqUy4)
- http://youtu.be/-5PZ_Bh-M60 (4:40, drama, The “Cyber Bullying Virus”)
- http://youtu.be/2YGjz5SV_Qk (5:37, drama, for those “just watching”)
- http://youtu.be/40Z0a41zsZA (3:19, interview, Simon’s parents)
Bullying, in its traditional form, involves aggressive and repeated actions over time by individuals or a group against a chosen victim. Cyberbullying adds a layer enabled through technology, most often via mobile phones. Parents need to be particularly aware of it between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, when there’s a noticeable peak in cyberbullying. The older child is more typically the perpetrator, although there are an increasing number taking the roles of both victim and bully, using the internet as a space to seek revenge, particularly on someone physically bigger.
ITV reported in February 2013:
- More than two-thirds of children say they have received abusive messages from someone they know.
- Almost half of youngsters keep the attack secret.
- One in five think sending a message in cyberspace is less damaging than face-to-face insults.
- Half the teenagers polled believe it is OK to say things online that you would not in person.
- A third of youths say they troll because their friends do so too.26
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.