Bullying has always been a prominent and an ugly truth of schooling years but the virtual space of social media has introduced us to an entirely kind of bullying.Parents who had just started dealing with challenging existence of playground bullying of boys and snarky remarks from girls are now struggling to cope with another menace children are facing - Cyberbullying.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is not that different from traditional bullying. But when bullies target victims via online platforms including e-mail, IMs, text messages, social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) videos, or any other digital or electronic medium, the act is referred as cyberbullying.
"Cyber bullies can hide behind a mask of anonymity online and do not need direct physical access to their victims to do unimaginable harm."
Anna Maria Chavez
But it’s a lot more dangerous because often the ‘bully’ can be an unknown person or can hide their identity online and still torment your son or daughter. Unfortunately for the parent, cyber-bullying is extremely difficult to monitor & track because often it can be anonymous. Victims are left feeling helpless and often reported experiencing depression and anxiety.
Is Cyberbullying common In India?
Yes! Infact, statistics on cyber-bullying in India are alarming.
According to this survey in 2014, a massive 32% of parents confirmed that their children had been a victim of cyberbullying. These numbers are significantly higher than those in western countries.
Another survey conducted by Microsoft in 2012, in which 7600 children participated, 53% of children aged 8-17 admitted to being harassed or bullied on the Internet. This included mean treatment online, victims of name-calling on social media and being teased or mocked online.
How Concerned Should Parents Be?
“If only she had come to us before taking such a step.”, said the police officer investigating the case of a 17-year old school girl who ended her life after being cyberbullied by her friends in Kolkata.
"Cyber-bullying is poised to turn into the biggest online concern, already affecting up to 35% of all children."
Dr Martyn Wild
This is the most distressing part of cyberbullying! It’s extremely hard to keep your children safe if they don’t share how they are treated online and the humiliating experiences they are going through. And you, as a parent remain in the dark about the hopelessness in your child’s life.
Sadly, only 1 in 10 victims confide in their parents or teachers about being bullied. This suggests that there’s a 90% chance that your child may be trying to hide his/her plight from you.
What Can Parents Do Then?
For starters, closely observe the child’s behavior. There are some very common behavioral changes that cyberbullied kids show:
- Once Internet-savvy, you see sudden disinterest in using computers
- Abrupt disconnection of social media accounts
- Signs of secretiveness for online activities
- Sudden mood swings after reading a text or scrolling through social media
- Loss of appetite or sleep
- An abrupt drop in grades or unwilling to go to school (The most important)
- Unlikely emotional outbursts, frustration, or anger
If you see any of these signs, talk to your child carefully or speak to a professional.
How To Safeguard Your Kids Against Cyberbullying?
Teach your children about cyberbullying. Explain the difference between bullying and ‘casual fun’. Let them know which types of behavior are punishable under law and teach them to not tolerate any bullying.
You could also supervise their social media use without invading their privacy. Given easy access to internet & social media, all kids are vulnerable and parents should be cautious. Talk to them, know what apps or sites they are using and stay updated. Constant vigilance is the need of the hour!