What will it take to protect our children from cyber bullying?
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Another teenage life has been lost due to cyber bullying. Hannah Smith, 14, from Lutterworth, Leicestershire was found hanged in her home on Friday 2nd August 2013 after having received abusive messages, such as ‘drink bleach’ and ‘go die’ on popular social media site Ask.fm. Hannah, who was a member of the Latvia-based website, was found in her bedroom by her 16 year old sister after being subjected to cruel taunts through the social media site.
David Smith, father of Hannah recently asked “How many more teenagers will kill themselves because of online abuse before something is done? These sick people are just able to go online and hide behind a mask of anonymity while they abuse vulnerable teenagers.” (Mirror)
Tragically, Hannah is not the only teenager to have taken her own life due to cyber bullying. Irish youngster Ciara Pugsley killed herself in September last year due to cyber bullying on Ask.fm, after reports of months of spiteful messages and online bullying. (Mirror)
Research has found that over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and more than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyber threats online. (bullyingstats.org)
With the rise of the use of mobile phones and people having near constant access to social media sites, more children and teenagers are becoming affected by a form of cyber bullying. ‘Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most popular form of technology and a common medium for cyber bullying.’ (bullyingstats.org)
Research shows that ‘About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online, and more than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.’ (dosomething.org)
The issue of cyber bullying has increased over the years as the use of social media is becoming an increasingly popular way for children and teenagers to communicate and interact with their friends. Not only that, it is used to seek advice on problems or concerns they are too shy to talk to their families about. This of course exposes them at their weakest, and hurtful or outright abusive message can be deeply affecting.
As social media is going to continue growing, it is important for families to try and prevent their children from being affected by the issues of cyber bullying. While there is currently pressure on the sites themselves to try to “police” what goes on, it is also clearly important for certain steps to be taken by people closer to home.
What can we do?
Parents can’t be there to watch what their children are doing on a constant basis; however, they can be there to educate them on what they should and shouldn’t do when using social media websites. Examples of this are taken from the National crime prevention council:
• Never give out personal information online, whether in instant message profiles, chat rooms, blogs, or personal websites.
• If someone sends a mean or threatening message, don't respond. Save it or print it out and show it to an adult.
• Don't put anything online that you wouldn't want your classmates to see, even in email.
• Don't send messages when you're angry. Before clicking "send," ask yourself how you would feel if received the message.
• Help kids who are bullied online by not joining in and showing bullying messages to an adult.
These are simple ways for parents to begin to protect children from cyber bullying, but, as well as educating children, it’s important as adults to perhaps review the situation at home, in order to keep closer eye on children’s online activity.
Advice for parents:
• Keep your home computer in a busy area of your house.
• Help children set up email and chat accounts. Make sure that you know their screen names and passwords and that they don't include any personal information in their online profiles.
• Regularly go over their instant messenger "buddy list" or social media “friends” with them. Ask who each person is and how they know them.
• Discuss cyber bullying and ask if they have ever experienced it or seen it happen to some-one. Try to keep that channel of communication open so that if an issue does arise, they feel comfortable sharing their problems with you.
• Explain that it is not your child’s fault if they are cyber bullied. Emphasize that you won't take away their computer privileges - this is the main reason children don't tell adults when they are cyber bullied. (National crime prevention council)
What is the law against cyber bullying?
In June 2013, the Director of Public Prosecutions set out guidelines for CPS prosecutors to consider when approaching offences of this nature, David Cook, Cybercrime expert was invited to the meet with the DPP in order to draft these guidelines, and make further submissions to the DPP as part of the public consultation. In relation to this issue, he notes that, “There are no specific social media offences. The guidelines discuss four distinct offences that may arise:
1. Communications which may constitute credible threats of violence to the person or damage to property.
2. Communications which specifically target an individual or individuals and which may constitute harassment or stalking within the meaning of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
3. Communications which may amount to a breach of a court order.
4. Communications which may be considered grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.
It is difficult to see how cyber bullying would fit into that and, for that reason, I wonder whether the Government needs to re-consider the current legislation. It is certainly clear that the internet community naturally includes many vulnerable groups – including children and those with disabilities and who may interpret such messages in ways that others may not – which deserve to be protected.”
For now, parents are certainly advised to take an interest in their children’s online activity and, if they believe that bullying is occurring, to try to find out more about what is going on and to take the necessary steps as appropriate thereafter.