It is hard to really remember how we felt about school and the friends we had when we were younger, however for a moment, let’s put ourselves back into the shoes of our teenage selves. Imagine sitting at home on a Tuesday morning knowing the bell had just announced the start of the second class for the day. You know you are supposed to be at maths now, but the thought of showing your face is so unbearable that the repercussions of staying home will be easier to handle. You are not sure what this feeling you are experiencing is called (adults call it anxiety and depression), your heart is broken, you feel ashamed and rejected.

Adults keep on preaching that the future looks bright and that there is a big world out there, however that sounds so far out of reach that they might as well be speaking about you as a character in a sci-fi movie. For now, all you are is lonely. No longer part of WhatsApp groups, Facebook friends have unfriended you and you aren’t being ‘tagged’ in posts anymore either. The only traces of your existence on social media platforms are the horrible, personal and hurtful comments being posted by the bullies.

All of this leads to trouble at home, unsatisfied teachers and a wider gap between you and the friends you once had. Everything gets darker and the safest place to be is alone, with your own distorting thoughts. The only way out, it seems, is the thought of committing suicide.

While this sounds quite dramatic, the rejection and depression young people experience through cyberbullying is the reality that has sadly led to many people committing suicide.

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What is cyber bullying?

The concept of bullying is not new and no matter what your age, you probably have been exposed to it at some stage in your life.

Bullies are no longer just causing trouble on the playground though. Their devastating impact now exceeds barriers with the use of digital media. A study done by UNISA, published in 2014, focused on the “Online safety of high school learners in Gauteng” and was completed with 1 467 learners who were interviewed. The study found that 97,7% of these learners had access to the Internet with 87% using their cellphones to interact online. With so many young people able to connect, imagine the power of the communication shared. Imagine how their connectivity is being used for good, and sadly, for bad.

There are many definitions for cyber bullying, but most of them have the following in common:

  • Rumours or hurtful messages are shared on social media and digital platforms.
  • Posts include images, drawings, words, comparisons, competitions and even references being made to people whom the victim knows or cares for.
  • This leads to defamation, humiliation and even creating hatred in others’ minds about the victim.
  • The true identities for the bully or bullies are usually hidden.
  • It is a process that sometimes last weeks or longer.
  • It involves child-to-child communication. Once an adult gets involved it is termed as cyber stalking and harassment.

How do you deal with it to set the boundaries?

Conversations and open communication is key, as we need to talk about acceptable online behaviour. By doing this we can better ensure that young people understand the risks of not only being a victim of cyber bullying, but also of being the actual bully. As parents you could also:

  • Be a Facebook friend, with the intention to observe (and never to comment).
  • Teach children to not respond to messages which could be seen as bullying or harassment.
  • Take a screen grab or photo of the messages as evidence and discuss the interaction with the child offline.
  • Set a good example when posting messages to friends or on social platforms such as news sites. Your kids will be able to see it if they Google your name.
  • Talk about child pornography and the dangers of taking compromising photos and also the risks of sharing these images.
  • Report pornography immediately. A place to start is on the Film and Publication Board’s website http://www.fpbprochild.org.za/ReportAbuse.aspx.
  • Watch and discuss video tools and movies on YouTube as a family. Films such as Disconnect (http://www.disconnectthemovie.com/ ) and The Cyberbully Movie (https://youtu.be/rOk2rtUIJ-g) will give you as parent better insight and help to steer the discussion to ensure your children are well aware of the dangers.

Education and support are the first steps in eradicating cyber bullying. Don’t delay with having these open and honest discussions with your children. Take them out for an ice cream and have the conversation to ensure you, as a family, set some clear boundaries in place to stop cyberbullying.

About SaveTNet: SaveTNet is a non-profit company, which aims to save lives by creating awareness of responsible digital engagement for the youth, their parents and schools with the support of national and international parties involved.

Website: www.savetnet.com

Twitter: @savetnet

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