I remember when I was at school, the bully was a big girl named Dottie who ate 5 pies at break, took your lunch money, pushed or tripped you and laughed when you walked past. The best thing was to avoid her and eventually it was quite easy. You had to walk further to get to where you wanted to go but you didn’t have to walk past her. There were always teachers and prefects you could turn to and after school you were safe because she didn’t live close to you…
But today, bullies look different and act different…
As a teacher I usually pride myself on being able to scope out who the potential bullies are in my classes, but lately I am doubting even that ability.
Research shows that almost 97% of children gets bullied at some stage in their school life. The newest trend is cyber-bullying. It is the act of bullying a person on a social network site like Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Wechat, Mxit, BBM etc. and it affects mostly teenagers. It is repeated behaviour where teenagers are exposed to cruel comments, false rumours being spread about them, purposefully damaging a person’s reputation and purposeful exclusion from a group.
Some interesting statistics about cyber-bullying:
- 43% of teenagers have been bullied more than once online.
- 70% of students report that they have seen frequent bullying.
- 80% of teens use a cellphone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber-bullying.
- 81% of students think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person.
- 90% of teenagers who have seen social-media bullying, say they have ignored it.
- 84% of teenagers have seen others tell cyber-bullies to stop.
- Only 1 out of 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
- 75% of students have visited a website bashing another student.
- Bullying victims are 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.
- In response to being bullied 35% of students respond in person; 15% avoid going to school; 4.5% have been in a physical fight with the bully.
- 10% of parents are targets of cyber-bullying.
What does this type of bullying do to our children?
As a “herd – animal” teenagers want to fit into their peer-group. They are looking for their individual identity but during adolescence they find it in being part of a collective group. Cyber-bullying cuts the individual off from the collective. It shuns the victim, isolating him or her from their peers. No-one wants to associate with that person for fear of also becoming an outcast. We all know how fragile a teenager’s self-esteem can be. Bullying makes a teen doubt his/her self-worth.
Horrifying indeed! And obviously to make it so much worse, parents and even teachers would rarely know when a teen is being cyber-bullied unless they have such an open relationship with the child that he or she will take them into their confidence. Many times adults only realise that something is going on when their child withdraws completely from the company of even family members. They are in their rooms all the time and a definite change in their mood can be detected. Although teenagers are “normally” moody due to hormonal changes, a bullied child will be severely moody.
Bullying can escalate to such an extent that the victim wants to commit suicide. Around 4 400 deaths were recorded worldwide last year as a result of cyber-bullying. Over 14% of highschool students have considered suicide and 7% have attempted it. Girls between 10 and 14 years old seems to have the highest risk for committing suicide.
Warning signs to look out for:
- severe depression
- losing interest in favourite activities
- having trouble sleeping and eating
- engaging in dangerous or harmful activities
- reckless behaviour
- substance abuse
- self injury
- saying that they can’t handle things anymore
How do you avoid cyber-bullying?
- Don’t post personal information. This includes your address, phone number, school name, passwords etc.
- The above rule applies also to the personal information of others. You do not have the right to post personal information of others and it is considered a criminal offense.
- Don’t be gullible. Don’t believe everything you read.
- Never open messages from strangers. If you do not know who the person is, delete the message immediately.
- Refrain from responding. It may be tempting to defend yourself or clear your reputation, but giving bullies attention will only encourage them to continue the harassment.
- Keep track of the bullying. Copy and save any chats or mails. Take a screen shot of your computer for evidence.
- If you are aware of the identity of the bully, block him / her immediately.
- Change your password often especially on school networks. Never set a password to save on a public network.
- Notify the social network of any abuse immediately.
- Be careful what you post. If someone asks you for nude pictures, don’t comply as it will be used against you and it is also against the law.
Hopefully the teenager will speak to a trusted adult about it and advise and support can be given. But it is very difficult to stop cyber-bullying without evidence, so make sure you collect as much as possible before taking it to the authorities. New laws regarding the use of technology to exploit and defame others are in the conceptual phase. Let’s hope the government will realise the plight of many of our children and move forward quickly so that they can be protected.
As a parent I worry about my sons. I worry about the children in my classes. Let’s try to have open, trusting relationships with our children so that we will know what is going on in their lives and to help them cope with the difficulties they are facing.