Is your child being cyber bullied? Signs to watch

With a mission to stamp out cyber bullies, a bunch of crusaders at ‘Beat The Cyber Bully’ are working tirelessly to raise awareness and help parents in the UAE understand the real threat and combat it head-on.

The stats gathered by beatbullying.org recorded that a staggering 80 per cent of young people said it was easier to hide online bullying from their parents because of no real physical signs.

“As you would imagine it’s harder to hide a black eye or a scratched face because the evidence is there to see,” said Barry Lee Cummings, chief awareness officer at Beat The Cyber Bully.

It’s parents, he insisted, who hold the key to ensuring such cases of abuse are tackled and don’t go undetected.

He understands that for many parents, the Internet is an alien concept.

“We, as in over 30s, are still learning about platforms and technology available to us. For our children and their children, they are and will be digital natives.”

It’s this divide between the real world and digital world that concerns and worries most parent, said Barry.

The situation, however, can be tackled through education.

“We’ve chalked out an exclusive session called ‘Keeping up with your kid online’ specifically to deal with this issue.”

Barry stressed how parents “need to be aware of what these apps and channels of communication are,” and how their kids are using them.

This immediately would eliminate cases where a lack of understanding could force kids to internalise the problem.

“In the mind of a child, your lack of understanding means you can’t help. The next cause of action is to internalise the issue, hide it and then the effects of bullying start to take their toll.”

The signs of cyber bullying, maintains Barry, isn’t any different from traditional bullying – it’s just happening on a different platform.

“Keep an eye out for changes in your child’s behaviour. If they are becoming more withdrawn, it can be a sign. And whilst you don’t necessarily want to be prying parents, asking your child’s friends how everything is, is often a good way of gaining insight.”

According to stopcyberbullying.org, cyber bullying means “a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted and singled out by another child, preteen or teen, using the Internet (social media channels or apps), interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones”.

Although the stats that appear on their website are either global or UK focused, mainly because the campaign has been running in the UK for two years now, Barry claims that the situation is an indicator of how things could unfold in the UAE.

“It is perhaps more prevalent here in the UAE where we are very eager to adopt new technology, even if we are not entirely sure how to use it,” he asserted.

“There is also a large percentage of population that would be described as affluent, which means it is not uncommon to see 5 and 6-year-olds using smartphones or tablets.”

In the UAE, Barry maintains that incidents of singling out and bullying through social networking sites were visible as back as 2010.

“The case studies in the region don’t end in any child paying the ultimate price with their own life,” he added.

“Words that have been uttered to counsellors on the ground here include, ‘but it’s only words, they can't hurt her’, to ‘of course it wasn't true, I only made it up as a joke’ – not realising that the joke is now out there forever, both parties are implicated in it (the bullied and the bully) and you can’t delete it.”

However, a recent tragedy in Italy, where a 14-year-old girl took her life after being bullied for writing to a website after breaking up with her boyfriend, shows how fatal such cases can be if left undetected.

“She was greeted with comments like ‘you are not normal’ to ‘kill yourself nobody wants you’.”

Barry highlighted how caregivers at home and school, who step in when the parents are not around, are equally responsible for providing the kids with a safety net.

“The child should have the same confidence to approach the adult and make them aware of the problem, without reproach and without the need for further explanation.”

Apart from bullying, Barry advises to be vigilant about managing one’s online reputation, adding that “your digital footprint is also becoming important. What you put out there even as a child can have ramifications later on in life”.

“This includes the ‘petty argument you had with a friend aged 13, where you unwittingly racially abused them’ and you are now being called a racist in your job interview.”

This is an aspect that parents must be aware about, and they should take a conscious effort to guide their children.

Beat The Cyberbully initiative enables parents and children to use this “wonderful tool called the internet and all the communication platforms it provides, safely”.

(Home page image courtesy Shutterstock)

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