Cyberbullying, which is bullying that takes place using digital technology, has become a serious issue including within Africa. The consequences can be serious: children become withdrawn and secretive, their schoolwork suffers and they may become aggressive, depressed or even prone to self-harm.
But even if your children face something like this, there is still a lot that parents can do by offering support at the right times and initiating a discussion about the problem. We want more parents to be aware of what cyberbullying is, how to recognise its first signs and how to tackle the issue.
Although the Internet is a virtual network, not all of its threats can be handled using computer technology alone. Some things cannot simply be stopped or prohibited, and cyberbullying is one of those things. But just because we can’t always shield children from this threat does not mean we cannot help them. Kaspersky Lab has worked together with child psychologists from across the globe to put together recommendations about how to support a victim of online bullying.
Lisa Wright, co-founder of anti-cyberbullying educational initiative Webiket.com, comments on how to deal with cyberbullying: “Remember that establishing trust and engaging in a heart-to-heart conversation early on is the first step towards dealing with a cyberbullying situation. An ongoing approach of assessing the situation and devising strategies to deal with both the cyberbullying problem and your child’s emotional state, must follow.”
The recommendations include:
1. Be there right by their side, with no preconceptions, no judgements, just loving acceptance. At this stage, they need to hear that no matter what happens or what they have done, you will be there to support them.
2. Do not play down the incident. At this moment, it is the most important thing in your child’s life. In their emotionally vulnerable state they will not be capable of rational thought, so let them know that you understand the seriousness of the situation and that their pain is justified.
3. It is not yet time for rational discussion. Do not suggest that the child may have provoked the situation, even if it is true. It may create a barrier and lead your child to believe that you don’t understand.
4. Genuine empathy is needed. It is important that your child understands that you feel what they feel. Explain that you have faced similar challenges – maybe not on the Internet, but face-to-face – and that it was hard. Don’t suggest that you suffered more or that you found the strength to cope on your own. Say that what you really wanted at that moment was to have someone to listen, to understand, to be with you.
5. Only when you have gained your child’s confidence – and this can take time and should not be rushed – can you start to talk about the incident. Do not second-guess what your child is going to say. Let them take the lead and tell you about it in their own words. It is important that they offload this burden themselves.
Summarising the guidelines, Caron Mullen, MSc, Cyber Psychologist stated: “Cyberbullying is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach. A strategy to support the child’s emotional state is very important. In the short-term, there are practical tips to help a child through the worst moments in a positive way without resorting to actions that may exacerbate the problem. The long-term objective is to help build the child’s resilience, enabling them to cope with problematic social experiences without psychological harm. But the first and most important step is for the parent to gain the child’s trust so the burden can be shared, and together, they can work on developing a plan of action to deal with the situation.”
While discussing the problem, Alexander Erofeev, Chief Marketing Officer at Kaspersky Lab said, “Words – sincere words of love and support – can help. This is the main point that we want to make in our fight against cyberbullying. And this is not just our opinion: it is shared by many psychologists worldwide who are involved in our campaign. Cyberbullying exists wherever there is Internet access – and this means no less than the entire globe. So, we want parents across the world to know how to properly handle this problem.”
As part of the campaign against cyberbullying, Kaspersky Lab has launched a new interactive portal Words Can Save that contains information about the issue and guides parents through indirect signs of cyberbullying in their children. The wordscansave.me helps parents understand how important it is to be close to children and support them with the right words.