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As the nation mourns 14-year-old Amy “Dolly” Everett, who tragically took her own life after being targeted by bullies, families throughout Australia are being forced to confront the harrowing reality that 1 in 4 Australian children are bullied; and 1 in 3 are threatened online.
Despite being devastatingly common, it’s estimated that 90% of parents are unaware that their child is being cyberbullied. Dolly’s father, Tick Everett, has expressed his hope that this tragedy may shed some light on the dark side of digital media and “help other precious lives from being lost”.
Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has announced that there has been a 60% increase in cyberbullying cases within the past year. So how is that such a ubiquitous social issue, and one which is evidently on the rise, can be so misunderstood? And, more importantly, how can we work together to reduce the incidence of cyberbullying, and spread cyberbullying awareness?
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We’re all familiar with the concept of bullying, yet we seem to lack a shared understanding of what specifically constitutes bullying behaviour. It can be especially difficult to accurately define cyberbullying because it can be social, relational, explicit, implicit, direct, or indirect in manner. How is it different from being rude, mean, or sarcastic?
Generally speaking, in order to be defined as bullying, the hostility must be intentional and repetitive in nature. Common examples of cyberbullying include:
Trolling and harassing
Fabricating and spreading nasty rumours
It’s important to understand that online bullying is not a wholly unique phenomenon. It’s very much an extension of conventional bullying, but one that is not confined to the school-ground. While there are important, distinguishing factors between the two, the sad reality is that online bullying is usually accompanied by offline bullying. The Cyberbullying Research Center estimates that 83% of students who have experienced cyberbullying have also experienced face to face bullying.
What this means for children who have been targeted by one or a group of bullies is that the experience becomes virtually inescapable, and there’s no safe place where their tormentor cannot reach them. Home and the bedroom specifically, is not the sanctuary it was in the past.
Perpetrators will often deliberately target their victims for various reasons: they are different from them, more successful or popular, or more sensitive and shy. Yet bullying also refers to inadvertent harm, such as: spreading rumours, gossiping, and excluding others. There’s also bystander bullying, which refers to the active sharing and ‘liking’ of hurtful or violent content online without being a direct perpetrator.
Bystanders to bullying are often inhibited by the ‘bystander effect’. The bystander effect is a psychological phenomenon that causes a diffusion of responsibility. It occurs when individuals within a crowd choose not to intervene in a situation because they think someone else will, and therefore reduce the likelihood of other witnesses intervening.
Yet it’s often bystanders who can influence a significant change in the bullying intensity and behaviours. Bullies enjoy having an audience, and are far more likely to stop doing what they’re doing if their audience disapproves. A 2016 Australian parliamentary research report states that “when a peer or bystanders do intervene, bullying stops within ten seconds; much more quickly than if an adult does the same thing. Education is required so that bystanders can be defenders, stand up for victims, or, if that is not possible, walk away to deprive the bully of attention”.
“Speak even if your voice shakes.” - Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett
Today’s parents are the first generation of parents to raise digital citizens without having grown up as digital citizens themselves. Because of this, we often find ourselves in uncharted territories. Yet, many of the life skills needed in order to combat cyberbullying are ones that precede the Internet. Today’s children are growing up with tech savvy we can only aspire to, but they lack our wisdom and life experience.
We can’t ever hope to “bully-proof” our children, but we can absolutely change the culture of bullying that they’re immersed in by teaching children that:
There is a significant difference between intent and impact
On the other side of every single online interaction, there is a living, breathing human being
The internet is forever, and their words could cause long-term damage
Liking or sharing content that was intended to be mean or hurtful is also considered bullying behaviour
We should also focus our energy on helping today’s youth to develop the following core life skills, which apply both in the on-and-offline worlds:
Emotional intelligence and empathy
If you or someone you know has experienced bullying, or if you need to speak to a counsellor, call Kidsline on 1800 55 1800. They’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can click here for information on Australia’s cyberbullying laws, or here more information on the long-term effects of cyberbullying. You can also access further information, advice, and resources for supporting bullying victims through the websites listed below:
The Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner: www.esafety.gov.auThinkuknow: www.thinkuknow.org.auWangle Family Insites: www.wanglefamilyinsites.com