Cyber-bullying: The Dark-side of Technology – Parents Beware

The tendency in students complaining about cyberbullying (CB) increased with an alarming rate. What is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying is a form of harassment using electronic or virtual means. This type of harassment is also commonly known as ‘online-bullying’ in many Asian countries including Pakistan and India. It termed ‘bullying’ which means when a youngster, typically teen, exchange harassed behaviour with others especially on social media. The harassed behaviour may include; rumours, threats, sexually explicit remarks or judgemental sentences, unethical and unlawful use of personal/sensitive information, and the use of ‘hate-speech’.

It is believed that Cyber Bullying is the most severe form of aggression and usually targeted and repeated but less personal as the bullying would be happening remotely or virtually. There are many forms of cyberbullying. However, the most dangerous kind of CB is ‘Cyberstalking’.

What is Cyberstalking?

According to Alison Smith (2008) Report, Cyberstalking is a form of virtual harassment where the culprit uses ‘Online Conversations’ to stalk or follow the victim. The harasser will keep sending the messages over social media messenger or through any other messaging app to stalk or threaten the victim by any means. Failing to get required results, the perpetrator may encourage others to do the same, either openly or by imitating their victim’s known individuals (relatives or friend of friends). It is quite like a ‘Controlled Online Blackmailing Strategy’. Sometimes, this type of online bullying leads to more aggressive behaviour called ‘Trolling’. In Cyberworld, a troll is a person who starts an argument or upsetting other people to distract by posting wrong and digressive messages in social media (blog, News forum, chat room etc.). According to a study, the troll may be unsettling due to their enjoyment or because they are genuinely an antagonistic personality.

What are the most places where Cyberbullying practice?

The most common form of social media(s) and open discussion forums where this harassment may occur are:

    • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter
    • SMS (Short Message Service) also known as Text Message sent through devices
    • Instant Message (via devices, email provider services, apps, and social media messaging features)
    • Email

The Role of Parents and Teacher in tackling Cyberbullies

Our new generation is more prone to technology, and the world is frequently developing cyberspace. When youngsters encounter their first Cyberbully, they don’t share it to anyone neither to their parents nor teachers due to the feeling of being ashamed, fear of embarrassment in their social circle or mostly due to the fear that their cyber-freedom will be ripped-off at home.

However, it is essential for parents, as well as teachers, to have a strong bond of trust, affection and confidence with kids so they can easily share/confess their dilemma without any fear.

How to tell when a kid cyberbullied?

Usually, signs of cyberbullying vary; however, the following are the most common symptoms:

    • being emotionally distressed during or after using the Internet or the cell phone
    • Being very secretive (mysterious) or protective of one’s ‘digital life’.
    • withdrawal from family members, friends, and activities
    • avoiding school or group gatherings
    • slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home
    • changes in mood, behaviour, sleep, or appetite
    • wanting to stop using the computer or cell phone
    • being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
    • avoiding discussions about computer or cell phone activities

How to be a ‘helping-hand’?

As a teacher, I always believe in my students no matter how good or bad their behaviour and performance are in the classroom. For the past three years, I confronted a handful of cyberbully cases. Following are the points which I assume parent should aware off:

    • It is crucial for the parents to understand the psychological trauma and pressure their kids are going through when they bullied online. Instead of shouting or reacting badly, offer comfort and support to them. Try to share your own bullying experiences of your childhood; it might help the victim child to feel less alone.
    • It is important to let them know that it is not their fault to become a victim of bully or troll. Do not react or confiscate their belongings or show any sign of forsaking their cyber freedom at home.
    • Let their school teacher, or anyone to whom they admired, know about the circumstances so they can help counsel the child. However, before informing them, let your child know that you’re planning to do so. In this way, the victimised child feel secure and respectable that may help them regain their lost confidence.
    • Encourage your child not to answer the cyberbullying, because it will just fuel the fire and makes the situation worse. However, keep the bullied messages (threatening messages, pictures, and texts) as evidence against the cyberbully.

What should kids do to avoid Cyberbullying?

Kids, the world which you are living is so diverse and digitally approachable that it’s a piece of cake to familiarise and know someone so well who lives miles away from you. The world is becoming ‘Cyber Village’.  I still remember, my mom always reminds me in my childhood, ‘not to talk to strangers’. I always felt, why? It’s good to know strangers and befriend with them. But not all strangers, whether in person or virtual, are worthy of befriending. The very first strategy of any troll or bullied is they start using your own sensitive secret personal information against you. It is then you realise that you are being blackmailed. So, first of all, always remember that your family is the first defence against all bullies. Trust them, share with them, hear them, follow their guidance and most importantly, be ethical and responsible in exchanging information with others.

So, teachers/parents, have you ever experienced such confessions or signs in your child or students? How do you deal with them? Share your stories in comments below.