"Go get coronavirus and die": How cyberbullying has mutated, and what you can do about it

Cyberbullying has bloomed like an out-of-control virus during the COVID-19 pandemic. But in this case, handwashing - or for that matter handwringing - won’t help protect them. Social-media distancing, on the other hand, just might.

Figures from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner show that one in five of our children have already experienced cyberbullying, with lockdowns fuelling even greater risk.

In March-April, the Commission reported a 40 percent increase in online abuse compared to the previous 12-month average. That included an 86% surge in image-based abuse, and a 21% spike in cyberbullying among children.

The mother of one 11-year-old, who told her story to The Sydney Morning Herald, was heartbroken to witness one of her daughter’s “friends” on Instagram Live talking about “how much she hates my daughter and why she hates her.”

“And my daughter’s sitting there watching it. … The same girl hacked her account and was messaging people as my daughter to create drama.” 

In March-April, the Commission reported a 40 percent increase in online abuse compared to the previous 12-month average. That included an 86% surge in image-based abuse, and a 21% spike in cyberbullying among children.

The old adage that girls use words to fight, while boys use fists, no longer applies in a digital world. Both boys and girls bully, and are bullied, on social media.

And some of the most horrific words are those used by boys, says eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant. She's observed the sickening taunt "Why don't you go kill yourself" (GKY for short) mutating into “Go get coronavirus and die.”

Cyberbullying

Of course, kids have always bullied other kids. But what sets the present generation apart is that their peer group - like the internet itself - is always “on.” There is no escaping from those other kids, no matter where they go.

The chatter, the updates, the images are omnipresent, wherever there is a connected device. Which is to say, everywhere.

What parents can do

It’s easy to cast blame on parents who allow their underage children to have social media accounts. (Instagram, for example, has an age restriction of 13+.)

But the reality is, the peer pressure, particularly during the ‘tween years, can be extreme. And kids’ protests that they’ll be social outcasts without social media are not entirely fanciful. 

Experts agree that restricting, limiting and monitoring children’s social media access are the most effective ways to protect them from cyberbullying. Call it “social media distancing.”

How to "social media distance"

Inman Grant strongly urges parents to restrict social media use by kids to open areas of the house - never bedrooms or any other rooms where doors can be closed. That way, she says, “You can see what they’re doing - you can see if their attitude or mood is changing.”

Experts agree that restricting, limiting and monitoring children’s social media access are the most effective ways to protect them from cyberbullying. Call it “social media distancing.”

Setting time limits on social media use is also essential, she says. Parental controls featuring one-click controls for individual apps, like Family Zone, are the easiest way to do this, allowing Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok, for example, to be blocked entirely or limited to certain hours only, on any device anywhere.

Experts also warn parents not to fall prey to their child’s pleas - however sincere - to have their phone next to their bed for overnight charging. The temptation to have a quick peek at notifications is simply too great (as many of us adults can attest!). All overnight charging should instead be done in mum and dad’s room only.

If bullying does occur, an understandable first impulse is to jump in and confiscate the device. But experts warn that this can escalate rather than defuse issues. Blame-free, empathic communication with your child should be your first step.

Try to reach a decision jointly about a course of action - alerting the school for example. Parents are often surprised and relieved at the support schools can provide. In the case cited above, for example, the bully was suspended from classes and her phone was confiscated for the remainder of the year. 

Keeping you up to date with the latest online trends is one way Family Zone can help your digital family to thrive.

Find out more about our world-leading parental controls, and start your free trial today.

 

 

 

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Topics: Cyber Bullying, Parental Controls, Screen time, Mobile Apps, Cyber Safety, instagram, cyberbullying

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