The technological scourge

There’s another report today from ChildLine that it’s seen a large increase in the number of children contacting it concerned with online bullying.

Cyber bullying is defined as ‘the wilful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, phones or other electronic devices’. Apparently 4,500 cases of cyber bullying in 2012-13 were reported, which was nearly double from the previous year. With 80% of teenagers using phones and at east the same on social media sites, we must understand that technology is connecting teenagers in a way that they cant escape and some reports show that 1/6 teenagers are cyber bullied.

It used to be the case 20+ years ago that the old adage ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but names will never hurt me’ was regularly rolled out by parents and carers when children complained. Now however, the very same verbal or written abuse through electronic means has extra power as the recipient knows, in all probability, that many others will see it as well and either believe it or even worse repeat it.

In America, who sadly we often follow with social trends, cyber bullying does occur at a lower rate than traditional offline bullying but in offline bullying teenagers are twice as likely to commit suicide than not bullied, but in cyber bullying they are 3 times more likely to commit suicide than those not bullied. With offline bullying youngsters are 1 and a half times more likely to attempt youth suicide whereas with cyber bullying young people are 3 and a half times more likely. For more information on youth suicide do listen to my interview with Jonathan Singer who is currently researching the subject – Jonathan Singer on Youth Suicide 

When asked about advice to give parents or carers to help or reassure young people the following tend to be general rules to follow:

  • make sure the support you give is unconditional
  • contact providers to block or remove material from bullies
  • preach zero tolerance at home and at school
  • listen and respond to all forms of bullying
  • make sure the school has a robust procedure for complaints
  • inform yourself and then go through the options with the child of what can be done
  • encourage the school to instigate projects to combat bullying

The department for education says that schools should have measures in place by law to prevent cyber bullying and that in the new curriculum children will be taught from the age of 5 how to stay safe online. Teachers have been given extra powers to search for banned items, delete inappropriate images from phones and give out same day detentions. On top of this schools will be given more funding to develop strategies to deal with the problem.

I recently spoke at a conference in London for the Bearr Trust who are a UK-based organisation set up to help children and other vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the South Caucasus and I shared a platform with a professor from Kiev University in the Ukraine. We came to the same conclusion, given that the same problems of bullying were manifesting themselves  there as they are here. The most potent and useful support that any child can have to get them through something like this are their parents or carers being informed, non judgemental and able to listen. Legal measures, sanctions and punishments are fine, but support from the home in a proper mature way is always important in dealing with modern day cause of so much pain.


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