Expert / 12 March, 2024 / My Baba

Every Parent Should Know About Cyberbullying. Please Read And Share…

With the recent conclusion of the inquest into the death of Mia Janin, the debate about cyberbullying and how to tackle it is back in the news.

Mia Janin was a 14-year-old schoolgirl from north London who had been subjected to cyberbullying. The inquest concluded she was being targeted by boys from her school. Tragically, in 2021, Mia took her own life the day she was due to return to school. A harrowing voice note she sent to a friend highlighting her fear of returning to school has been shared with the media.

Mia’s father, Mariano Janin, is campaigning for a cyberbullying law.

Currently, cyberbullying is addressed under the Harassment Act 1997, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003. While these laws are adequate to hold perpetrators of cyberbullying to account, they are no deterrent if nobody knows about them, and it’s vital we speak to our children about cyberbullying so they know what to do if it ever happens to them and why they need to carefully consider their online behaviour.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying which involves a person or group of people being harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted in the online world.
It could be through an e-mail, social media site, text or other instant message. Cyberbullying is sometimes called cyberharassment. Although online bullying is not physical, it is no less harmful and can consist of;

  • Name-calling and hurtful remarks.
  • Making threats of physical violence to the victims or their loved ones.
  • Spreading rumours or threatening to spread rumours.
  • Offensive remarks such as sexual, racial or homophobic comments.

Other descriptions of cyberbullying include;

  • Trolling: Posting messages which are intended to provoke a response.
  • Virtual mobbing or dog-piling: Encouraging other people to harass someone on social media.
  • Doxxing: Publishing someone’s personal information.
  • Cyberstalking: Repeated use of online messaging to harass or frighten.
  • Baiting: Accusing someone of engaging in sexual activity.
  • Flaming: Abusing someone in a live chat forum.
  • Spamming: Sending a large number of unwanted messages.

The Safer Internet Centre claims that 12% of young people in the UK are affected by cyberbullying, and research from Ofcom reveals that 4 in 10 children aged 8-17 (39%) have experienced bullying, and older children in the UK are more likely to be bullied on a screen than in person. The most common way for children to be bullied via technology was via text or messaging apps (56%), social media (43%) or online games (30%).

The Impact

A person doesn’t necessarily need to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying for it to negatively impact them. Witnessing it happening to others in chatrooms or social media can lead people to calibrate their online behaviour to reduce the risk of becoming a victim themselves. It can lead observers to self-exclude, discourage participation in public debate, and ultimately drive people away from online spaces, which impacts wider society by silencing voices.

For an individual on the receiving end, Cyberbullying can have a detrimental impact on their mental and physical well-being. A 2019 study by the University of Buffalo found teens who were cyberbullied were also more likely to suffer from poor sleep and depression, factors which can also impact academic achievements, a loss of interest in social activities and, in extreme cases, lead to self-harm.

Is my child being cyberbullied?

Each child is an individual and will respond to stress in their own unique ways, but some indications are that your child is upset or anxious during or after using their phone, or they spend more time than usual online or refuse to use their mobile phone at all. Nobody knows your child as well as you. If you’re concerned that your child is being cyberbullied, you can watch for changes in your child’s emotions and behaviour, which might include;

  • Your child is moodier than usual.
  • There could be changes in their sleep patterns or appetite.
  • They might become unusually angry at home or school.
  • They could also complain about feeling sick or have headaches or stomach aches.
  • They could become jumpy or appear anxious when notifications are received.

What can we do?

Trust your instinct. If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, the best way to find out for sure is to speak with them. If you have regular one-on-one time with your child, you can use this time to explore the subject.

The general advice is to not respond to cyberbullying, but it can be helpful to let the perpetrator know that their behaviour is causing distress. This might cause them to stop, but if they continue after they have been told their communications are causing harm, it will serve as evidence that the perpetrator knowingly and wilfully set out to cause alarm and distress.

  1. Report the bullying to your child’s school. The school is responsible for preventing all forms of bullying, including cyberbullying.
  2. Report the bullying to the online platform where the bullying has taken place.
  3. Take screenshots of the offensive messages and comments and save the evidence.
  4. If the messages include threats of violence or comments that could be deemed as Hate Speech, report it to the police.

What if my child is a cyberbully?

Young people often like to call each other out or get a rise out of others. They like to test the boundaries to see how far they can go to get a reaction by saying outrageous things they don’t really mean. This is often dismissed as banter or viewed as fun. This behaviour can be directed at people who know each other or complete strangers.

The line between online banter and cyberbullying can be blurred and hard to define. Often, it’s only when someone on the receiving end gets distressed by the comments directed at them that the perpetrators realise their behaviour is hurting someone. But when the person directing the messages becomes aware of the harm they are causing and continues to post hurtful messages, that’s when the line is crossed, and it becomes cyberbullying, which is no different to any other kind of bullying.

When looking at what factors propel a young person to become a cyberbully, an article published by the Journal of Mental Health and Human Behaviour (Cyberbullying: A Narrative Review) points to;

  • Peer pressure: They may be coerced into participating in cyberbullying.
  • Anonymity: The anonymity of the online world can lead them to believe they won’t be caught or discovered.
  • Coping mechanism: They may be experiencing low self-esteem.
  • Lack of parental supervision: No ground rules have been put in place for online behaviours.
  • Lack of information: They have not been informed about the law or potential punishment.

If your child is engaging in cyberbullying, cyberharassment or trolling another individual, it might be that as soon as they are made aware of the harm they are doing, they will be remorseful and immediately stop. This is all part of growing up and transitioning into adulthood. Young people are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.

If your child is wilfully cyberbullying or trolling someone with the intention of doing harm, then there will be underlying issues at play. It could be that they are struggling to regulate and control their emotions, or it could indicate distress in other areas of their life.

Whatever the reasons, it must never be condoned, only understood.

What can we do?

While it may be evident to you that this behaviour is inappropriate and risky and could land your child in serious trouble with the law, unless they have been educated about cyberbullying, it won’t be obvious to them.

Talk to your child about their digital footprint and explain how everything they post to the online world has the potential to come back and bite them in the future. Even if their account settings are private, they only communicate with a small group of people, and they delete questionable comments; people can always take screenshots.

There are countless cases where people posted objectionable comments as adolescents, and years later, they are denied a place at a university, asked to step down from their position or dismissed from their jobs.

The importance of educating our children about cyberbullying cannot be understated. It can be the difference between a smooth transition into adulthood and realising ambitions or never getting to realise their potential at all.

Rest in peace, Mia Janin.


Article written by Safetonet.

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