In 2012 Cyberbullying is no longer a joke. UNISA released a study questioning children’s increasing use o cell phones as a learning tools. Research by Prof Deon Tustin, head of the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) indicates that 24.2 % of children in high schools use phones to improve mathematics and 23% use them to research homework.
According to this study, mobile phones can be used to educate children, access to the Internet and provides a foundation for bullying. In the survey among high school children in Gauteng, 34% of the learners reported that they have been bullied in the past two years. The highest number (42 %) was grade 8 children. They also reported being bullied more by their peers than any other group, with 60.4 % saying they by other young people. Another 23.3 % of respondents admitted to bullying someone. Cyberbullying takes place mostly through SMS and social media, the researchers found.
Some 37 % of South African teenagers were victims of online abuse, of these, 40.3 % did not report it, while almost 52 % did and 8.9 % were uncertain. Factors include retaliation, peer pressure, anger, recognition or entertainment. These factors could actually drive a victim to being physically ill or even suicidal.
Almost 80 % of high school children admitted having consumed alcohol, while 66.6 % admitted to having been drunk and 44.8 % to binge drinking. The research by Antoinette Basson of the Youth Research Unit was done among 4346 learners in randomly selected schools in Gauteng. Almost 60 % said they did it to fit in, 45.6 % said they wanted to get away from their worries and another 34 % said it builds their self-confidence.
Parents are the primary role models and play a significant role in the lives of children. My seminars help reduce the gap between children and parents and their understanding of the issues, both positive and negative. Online abuse is more widespread because smartphone usage has increased exponentially with BlackBerry and iPhone usage. Children and adults easily develop a dependency to the always-on lifestyle, the constant connection that must be satisfied no matter what the cost to personal relationships. This is destroying their ability to feel or express empathy, which is not easy through a screen.
CYBER BULLYING – QUICK REFERENCE GUIDE
- What is cyber bullying? The use of online and mobile technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour towards another person. You can be both the perpetrator and the victim of cyberbullying attacks using sms or social media. Among adults it’s referred to as cyber harassment.
- How prevalent is it amongst in South Africa? A UNISA study found > 60% of teens interviewed have been bullied, > 20% admitted to bullying someone else. As people continue to upgrade to Smartphones there will be a correlating increasing in Smartphone abuse both by children and adults.
- What are the reasons – is it a variation on school bullying?Yes, it is a variation on bullying, which in itself is a variation on harassment, which in turn is derived from low self image and lack of empathy.
- One answer may be to ban cell phones – but they are used as an educational tool? Although the argument is made for cellphones in school, especially higher families and neighbourhoods, the downside is worse. So when the disadvantages of a technology outweighs the advantages, serious consideration must be paid to clear boundaries or limitations.
- What is the psychological impact of such bullying?Because of the victims tend to be grade 8 children from the UNISA study, the impact is severe. This is bound to cause a strongly negative association with the group experience of compulsory schooling.
- How should we be educating our children about this? Children must learn from their parents and teachers how to manage conflict. Conflict resolution must become a core part of Life Orientation subjects. The Centre for Teaching Peace in Washington DC provides a curriculum for 9 steps to conflict resolution, which have been successfully taught to primary school children. The increase in cyber-bullying is simply a reaction or a defence to the attacks. This fosters a cycle of abuse which spirals out of control in isolated cases.
- What signs do parents/teachers need to be looking out for regarding cyber bullying? Signs of Awareness is the key as always. So cultivating the sharing of stories of bullying through essay writing or group discussions. Children, whether victims or perpetrators of online bullying, must feel safe before they can completely open up about experiences or motivations.
- What should parents teachers do if children are being subject to cyber bullying? Step one is to remove their access, and limit the damage already caused. Help them diagnose the situation by showing them how to take proactive steps to protect themselves. When children try to defend themselves, online, the abuse increases. After you “unplug” from the situation it becomes easier to go to the next step, blocking or banning the person from your mobile phone or social network. Third and final step is to report them to the service provider i.e. Facebook, BlackBerry or your ISP (MWeb, Telkom Internet, etc).
- UNISA, 2012 study on cellphones, learning and cyber bullying.
- WIRED Safety guidelines on Cyber Bullying
- Cyber Bullying and suicide: new research