Welcome to Week 8. Last Friday, NEGS marked the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. The circumstances that led to the tragic death in the Christmas holidays of Dolly Everett in the Northern Territory have raised the profile of this epidemic. From the Prime Minister down, there has been commentary and a wider, brighter light shone on bullying online and its effects on an individual’s mental health. This is well overdue, because despite the best efforts of capable and committed teachers in almost every school across the country, we have been unable to stem the tide.
With the number of Australian children taking their own lives increasing by a third in the past decade and suicide remaining the leading cause of death in children aged 5 – 17, this national call to action is long overdue.
Of course as parents this new frontier of online everything, can be a complex thing to manage. The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia has put together some sage advice for all of us. Titled “Cyberbullying: Teaching our kids good digital citizenship and resilience.” I have attached portions of the article for your reference.
Ginger Gorman, journalist and writer, believes that the best way to deal with online bullying and managing social media which is already enmeshed into the lives of our children, is through education and resilience.
In addition, argues Gorman: “The notion of banning kids from social media is akin to stopping kids going to the shopping mall in case they get assaulted. It’s ludicrous and amounts to a type of victim blaming that punishes the cyberhate target and not the perpetrator.”
Child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg recently told the ABC that up to 70% of primary-school aged children are on social media and argued that children aged under 12 should not be on social media at all, but Gorman asks, “Aren’t we better off teaching our kids good digital citizenship and resilience in the face of bullying? Aren’t we better off helping them use social media in limited bouts and under supervision?”
Gorman suggests that we do not engage with bullies and trolls who are, after all, simply seeking to hurt their victims and provoke a wounded response. Rather, she argues, we should ignore their vile posts, stand strong and use resources like those provided by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and Kids Helpline. It is also important, Gorman says, not to lose sight of the positive sides of social media for young people in connecting with friends and family. It is crucial for children, including those who are vulnerable or isolated, to be able to access online support networks and resources via social media.
Echoing this advice, Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, says that parents and the wider community need to “help our young people build the resilience, courage and strength to cope with what they may experience online”. Parents are urged to help their children navigate their way safely in the online world, just as they do for the real world.
A survey of 2,360 Australian parents conducted by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner in 2016 found that 90% believe their child benefits from being online, including for school work (73%), finding information (63%), entertainment (50%), technology proficiency (47%), connecting with friends and family (30%), problem-solving skills (20%) and creativity (18%). However, 60% of parents also believe their child faces risks online, most commonly accessing inappropriate content (60%), contact with strangers (50%) and excessive use (42%), but also reduced fitness (36%), sharing personal information (35%), cyberbullying (29%), feeling isolated (22%) and negative self-image (20%).
Overall, 66% of parents taking part in the survey were confident in their ability to protect their child online, but 38% said that would like more information about online safety principally advice about how to deal with negative online incidents, online stranger danger, and images going viral. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides a wide variety of online resources for parents including iParent (providing information on how make devices and connections safe and secure); advice on dealing with cyberbullying; and portals to report serious cyberbullying, offensive and illegal content, and image-based abuse (such as the unwanted sharing or posting of images of children and young people).
It is also important to note that serious online harassment and bullying can constitute an offence under Australia’s Criminal Code Act 1995 , attracting a maximum penalty of three years’ prison or a fine of more than $30,000. Serious cyberbullying intended to make the victim feel fearful, harassed or otherwise concerned for their safety can be reported to ACORN (the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network), which may refer the matter on to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. Kristen Douglas, School Support National Manager for the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, says that data for 2005 to 2016 shows that youth suicide has reached a ten-year high, with eight children and young people suiciding every week in Australia. In total, 405 young people aged under 25 died by suicide in 2015, including 14 aged 0-14 and 145 aged 15-19. Douglas says that: “Help-seeking is a proven pathway to suicide prevention by ensuring help is accessed in the early stages, we know that young people can get things back on track.”
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner advises parents of cyberbullied children to:
• Collect evidence – take screenshots of the material and copy URLs
Kids Helpline also provides online advice for bullying victims, telling them not to respond to the bully, but to block them, take screenshots and report the post or image. They should also seek help from a parent, trusted adult or, if they feel in danger, the police. Kids Helpline is also open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week providing a free and confidential online and telephone counselling service to all children and young people aged 5 to 25.