70% of teens have been exposed to cyberbullying. Cyber Expert and Psychologist Jordan Foster has identified the 4 most common methods kids are using to cyberbully each other and how parents can help stop this.
1. Creating Facebook/Instagram accounts dedicated to shaming a victim
After a negative incident occurs at school, such as two friends having a falling out, the angry and upset person might create a Facebook or Instagram account and use it to publicly shame the person who upset them. The page can include any content such as private photos, personal information and, depending on the victim’s relationship with the perpetrator, information told in confidence or often completely untrue rumours. Victims of these pages are left completely humiliated and fear returning to school.
2. Online video game bullying
Within the online gaming world, player capability is taken very seriously. In games where players join a team, their ability to play the game well is vital. When mistakes are made, bullying ensues – this can be in the form of pure ridicule, racism, sexism, being kicked out of the game and many other forms of online abuse. Whilst this may not seem to be too harmful in our eyes, kids take this very seriously. It can lead to anxiety and self-esteem issues that impact kids outside of playing the game.
3. Group chats – exclusion and public shaming
In similar instances, such as friend’s falling out or even just regular bullying of a frequent victim – kids will create group chats on platforms like Facebook or Kik Messenger where they will make fun of a victim in a group setting. Using the vehicle of a group chat can incur other kinds of bullying such as exclusion where the person who created the group chat may remove a person so they can no longer be included. Public shaming and exclusion in group chats result in stress and anxiety for the victim.
4. Sharing screenshots of conversations
Kids sometimes screenshot text conversations they’re having with someone and will then send on said conversation to another person without their consent. This is the modern-day version of the ‘three-way call’ – where two people call another and pretend one of them isn’t there to coerce the victim into talking about them. The impacts are the same in that the victim is the left humiliated and possibly afraid to go to school the next day.
So what can we do to help our kids?
Keeping communication lines open with kids is key, whether you suspect your child is a victim or a perpetrator of cyberbullying – Jordan has several suggestions to help:
If you suspect your child is being bullied, try and find out what social media platform it is occurring on. If it is a post or page that can be removed, it needs to be taken down. Most major social media platforms have Family Help Centres that give you step-by-step instructions on how to remove cyberbullying content of your child. Alternatively, parents can visit the eSafety website (www.esafety.gov.au) and find out more information on how to delete cyberbullying content.
What we don’t always consider is that children actually spend more time online when they are being cyberbullied, because they become fixated with tracking what is being said about them. Meaning that the home, with its unfettered access to the internet, can become part of the problem. Ensuring that your child is spending time offline and setting time for access to social media is a great first step. The bullying may not stop, but it will provide your child with a mental break from constantly checking their accounts. This will also provide you time to check in with how they are, and talk about what is currently going on for them.
There are several great services available to young people that can help support and provide guidance after an experience of cyberbullying. Headspace and Youth Focus are two great organisations that provide free support services to young people.
Lastly, parents can seek guidance from their school community, whether it be the school psychologist or the Head of Year. Schools can often help to mediate conflict in peer relationships and guide parents on how to address the bullying.
If parents suspect their child may be the bully, it is important that parents have conversations with their child to help develop their ‘digital empathy’. Conversation prompts such as ‘How do you think that comment may have affected that person?’ or of course the old faithful, ‘How would you feel if someone posted that about you?’ are good starting points to help your child develop their sense of emotional accountability. The next most important question to ask your child is ‘Is there anything going on for you right now?’ It may be that your child is bullying as a result of them also experiencing cyberbullying, or perhaps they are feeling insecure or anxious. We can try and help solve the issue by developing understanding and care, both for themselves and for others.
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