It’s hard to believe that just a generation ago, teenagers had to rely on the family phone to stay in touch with friends.
Today’s teens are in constant communication with not just one friend but often an entire group through social media.
From Facebook and Snapchat to Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr or Viber, young people are using a variety of platforms to socialise.
And while once having a ‘private’ conversation meant shutting the door or keeping your voice down, today’s young people are free to plug in and switch on whenever and wherever they want.
A survey commissioned by the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, June 2016 found:
34% of kids online use social media compared with 82% of teens online
The most common Social media services by kids (8-13 years) and teens (14-17 years) were:
The upside of using social media for both age groups is keeping connected to friends and family and self-expression as part of identity formation. The downside includes nasty comments, feeling they have to keep checking in all the time and FOMO (fear of missing out).
Most parents worry that their children spend too long on screens. But what if your child or teenager slows down, or withdraws from social media? Is this a cause for concern?
Cyberbullying: know the signs
Cyberbullying is a hidden form of bullying that can include sending hurtful messages, images or videos, humiliating others online, sending abusive texts and emails, imitating or excluding others online.
Traditional bullying and cyberbullying are closely related: those who are bullied at school are bullied online, and those who bully at school bully online.
Examples might be spreading rumours or threats through an email or text, making hurtful comments about someone on a post, or sharing pictures or videos using mobile devices or tablets.
In some cases, ‘sexting’ – sending a sexually explicit text message or photo – can be used as a form of cyberbullying. A 2015 Australian Government survey found 38% of 13 to 15-year-olds and 50% of 16 to 18-year-olds had sent a ‘sexual picture of themselves’. 62% of 13 to 15-year-olds had received a sexual picture/video as had 70% of 16 to 18-year-olds.
Others might use anonymous apps like Whisper, Secret or Ask.Fm that let users post messages without being identified, or communicate through ‘chatrooms’ on gaming networks.
A child or teenager who unexpectedly stops using their device could be the victim of online bullies.
Other signs your child may be being bullied may include:
Changes in disposition, for example a bright, happy child becoming withdrawn, sad, angry or anxious
Unexpected changes in friendship groups
Hiding online activities and mobile phone use
Reluctance to talk about social media activity
Reluctance to go to school or be outside
Nervous, jumpy behaviour when using phones or devices
Signs your child may be bullying others may include:
Reluctance to talk about online behaviour
Uses multiple online accounts
Becomes unusually upset when denied access to devices
Hides screens or devices, appears secretive
Uses devices at all hours of the night
What can parents do?
The Office of the Children’s e-Safety Commissioner recommends that a school be alerted if two or more students are involved.
Parents need to be aware that cyberbullying exists and be mindful of any changes in behaviour around ‘screen time’. Keep a close eye on offline and online behaviour and keep them connected to friends and family.
Children and young people need to feel that they have an adult they trust who they can talk to about their friendships and social groups.
The Victorian Department of Education and Training on their Bully Stoppers site suggests parents talk about what we know doesn’t work with bullying:
bullying the bully
playing with a different group of friends
remaining silent about the problem.
The Raising Children Network suggests you encourage your child to do the following:
Talk to someone you trust straight away—like a parent, carer, sibling, teacher or friend, or contact Kids Helpline
Don’t retaliate or respond—they might use it against you and things might get worse
Block the bully and change your privacy settings
Report the abuse to the service and get others to as well
Collect the evidence—keep mobile phone messages, take screen shots and print emails or social networking conversations
Do something you enjoy—catch-up with friends, listen to good music, watch a good show or chat online to people you can trust
Remember you didn’t ask for this—nobody deserves to be bullied and you will get through this.
Young people often hide bullying from parents because they fear the parent will make things worse.
Parents with a child who is cyberbullying others should explain to them how their behaviour can hurt others.
Cyberbullying should be reported to the service provider using its reporting tools and asking for content or exchanges to be removed. Keep a record of online exchanges, emails and text messages.
You can lodge a complaint with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner via its online complaints form. (https://esafety.gov.au/complaints-and-reporting/cyberbullying-complaints/i-want-to-report-cyberbullying).
While the risk of cyberbullying is real, social media is not going away anytime soon.
The best protection you can give your child against becoming a victim of online bullies is to keep the lines of communication open and to foster trusting relationships within your own family.
Along with an awareness of what bullying is and how to prevent it, you’ll be creating the pathways your kids need to help them navigate and nurture their online and offline relationships in healthy ways