A version of this was published in: https://sg.theasianparent.com/what-is-cyberbullying-kids
As children continue to spend longer periods of time online due to the offline dangers posed by COVID-19, they are increasingly exposed to a variety of internet-based dangers. Undoubtedly, new technologies – such as smartphones, tablets, and a whole new range of the internet of things (IoT) devices – have kept us informed and connected during the pandemic. Children have stayed online longer as they studied, communicated, and played from home. Digital devices have also become the default means of leisure activities as busy parents have juggled remote work and family demands, while children largely spend time indoors.
Cyberbullying: A Key Cyberspace Danger for Children
Unfortunately, along with the benefits of new digital technologies, there are significant downsides, including online harassment. New technologies are increasingly being used to unleash verbal, physical, mental and emotional violence and abuse. A prominent form of online harassment facing children and youth is cyberbullying, which can have significant negative impacts on physical and mental wellbeing. Cyberbullying is a huge problem in internet-savvy Singapore as well. The inaugural 2020 Child Online Safety Index (Cosi) report, which includes data on more than 145,000 children, found that 40% of Singaporean children between 8-12years old were exposed to cyberbullying. For teenagers, the risk increased to 52%, owing to smartphone ownership and longer time periods spent online.
In this article, I provide an overview of what cyberbullying is, some common cyberbullying behaviours and explain how they can be harmful. Cyberbullying is a complex phenomenon, and there’s more to it than meets the eye. Children (like adults) can be intentional or accidental cyber-bullies, and there is a strong link between cyber-bully victimisation and offending. In other words, victims often end up bullying others, and so the vicious cycle continues. Parental guidance and support can play an important role in preventing or at least mitigating the effects of cyberbullying, as well as other internet dangers. Like with other aspects of cybersafety, it is important for parents and caregivers to know this information, as it will form the basis for their communication and cyber-parenting experiences with their children/wards. This knowledge should also help parents to manage and mould their own internet behaviours, as they are often the first role model for their child.
Simply put, cyberbullying is bullying that occurs in online spaces and via online communication channels such as email, social media, games, chat groups, etc. There are many different types of cyber-bullying behaviours, and some of them are an extension of traditional forms of bullying, such as those that occur in school, the playground, or in the office – that is, in physical spaces. Common types of bullying behaviours among children include:
- Name calling
- Insults and abuse
- Public and humiliating pranks
- Spreading unpleasant rumours
- Sharing personal photos or information of someone without their consent
- Exclusion, which involves intentionally singling out and excluding someone from an online group, and gossiping about them behind their back.
These are all very hurtful, no matter how young or old someone is. If this has ever happened to you or your child, then you have been a victim of cyberbullying. And it hurts! Conversely, if you/your child/ anyone else you know have ever engaged in any of these activities, and then laughed or brushed it off, saying “it’s just a joke/comment, how can it hurt?”, then you may have been a cyberbully yourself! Causing someone else to feel hurt is no joke, and a rule of thumb is to think carefully and empathetically about what you say and post, so that your online actions don’t harm others, even accidentally.
Cyber-bullying shares some features in common with its traditional counterpart, including motives (to hurt or harm), tactics (e.g name-calling), impact on victims (physical, mental, emotional), and power differentials (the bully is more powerful). There are some important differences too, which make cyberbullying potentially more harmful than traditional bullying:
- This is because of the anonymity the internet provides, which makes it very difficult to identify cyberbullies and take the necessary interventions to stop their behaviour.
- Cyber-bullying can be asynchronous (not occurring in the same time and place) and continuous, so it can follow a victim around any and all the time as long as they are connected to the internet.
- Finally, unless you have good privacy settings for your child and are aware of their online activities, they are visible to a wider audience, which makes them vulnerable to strangers and dangerous behaviours.
Possible Harms and where Cyber-Parenting Fits In
Cyberbullying can cause physical, emotional, and mental health trauma in victims. Victims often exhibit symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety, which can foster feelings (or worsen existing feelings) of worthlessness, isolation, and low self-esteem. Serious or persistent harassment can contribute to depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and for a small minority of victims, even suicide attempts (this is called bullycide or death by bullying).
But it’s also important to remember that just like with traditional bullying, reactions to cyberbullying vary. A proportion of victims are able to brush off their experience and move forward, either by themselves or with support, which is where parents and caregivers can play an important role.
Cyber-parenting principles build on good parenting principles in general and work to instil awareness and resilience in our children to cyber-dangers, including cyberbullying. Like other aspects of cyber-safety, prevention is better than cure, and awareness and good communication practices at home work best to minimize the negative impacts of internet use on children.
To know more, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and learn more about CyberCognizanz’s cyber-parenting resources and services here.