With the growing use of technology, our kids are at an increasing risk of cyberbullying. But what is it, and how can we protect our children? Read on to find out...
Even though we moan about it from time to time, technology is often a godsend – especially during the pandemic. For one, it’s been invaluable with all the working from home, even though homeschooling was rough (thankfully, the kids are back in school!). Another positive? It’s helped us stay in touch with family and friends overseas. Although, despite the pluses, there are still a few concerns us parents have… like cyberbullying.
For one, a study conducted in 2020 hinted at a “cyber pandemic” and showed kids aged eight to 12 are at high risk of being bullied online (and it’s even worse for teens). And it doesn’t just affect us normal folk either, but celebrities, too. So to get some insight on what cyberbullying is and how we can protect our kids, we spoke to Anita Low-Lim, Media Literacy Council member and senior director at TOUCH Integrated Family Group, to find out more. Read on for some essential advice!
Cyberbullying in Singapore: Essential information for parents
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the act of using the internet or technology such as mobile phones or video games to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person.
The five forms of cyberbullying
There are different ways kids, teenagers and even adults experience cyberbullying online. And you might’ve come across a couple, too. Anita breaks it down for us parents and shares these various forms of cyberbullying:
What is it: A sustained, constant and intentional form of cyberbullying. It involves sending offensive messages to an individual or group multiple times.
It includes cyberstalking, which involves continuous threats and rude messages. But, it could also come in the form of disseminating “doctored” images or videos with the intention to cause harm.
What is it: The creation of a fake profile in another person’s name. Impersonation can also include the act of hacking into another person’s account and sending messages to others saying hateful, cruel or threatening comments, with the intention to tarnish reputation online.
Plus, a bully may also share details of the victim’s personal information online.
What is it: Hostile online interactions that involve profanity and insults aimed at hurting a person. You might encounter them on public channels like online forums or the comments sections of Facebook pages.
What is it: When cyberbullies send, post or publish cruel rumours, gossip and untrue statements about an individual with the intention to damage their reputation or relationships.
What is it: Using private or identifying information about an individual or organisation to discredit them and threaten harm.
How can cyberbullying affect my child?
Turns out, cyberbullying at its core is similar to bullying, and it can affect our young ‘uns emotional and mental health in several ways. “Kids might avoid the use of the internet, which may cause them to feel isolated from their support network and friends, causing them to feel alone,” says Anita.
“Victims of cyberbullying may also feel anxious and depressed, as it destroys their self-confidence, self-esteem and happiness,” she adds. “Or they might feel vulnerable and powerless if their bullies are acting anonymously. You might notice your child has lost interest in the things they once enjoyed. Instead of hanging out with their family and friends, they may prefer to be alone.”
How can I help prevent my kid from being cyberbullied?
“Take active steps to discuss the consequences of online bullying and the impact of a person’s actions online,” shares Anita. As parents, it’s also great to be well-informed by reading up on the preventive and protective functions available on apps and websites instead of restricting access. TOUCH Cyber Wellness, for example, has a five-step method that teaches children what to do when they encounter a cyberbully online.
TOUCH Cyber Wellness’ five-step method:
- Stop – Teach the kiddos to stop what they’re doing if they encounter something that makes them feel uncomfortable, fearful or hurt. Understanding how bullies think and behave will help you gain some control over the situation!
- Block – One of the best ways to deal with cyberbullies is to cut off all lines of communication. The less contact the cyberbullies have, the fewer opportunities they have to hurt your children.
- Save – Don’t forget to save all evidence of cyberbullying – preferably in both hard and soft copies – because they can be used to bring the cyberbullies to justice if there is a need to. Not only will it hold the bully accountable, but it will teach your kids to gain confidence and control and know that there are consequences for their actions.
- Tell – It’s important you let your kids know that rather than keeping everything to themselves, they can tell a trusted adult (parents or teachers) any time they are caught in a cyberbullying situation. Plus, it’ll also allow you to give them the help and support they need.
- Report – If the previous tips aren’t effective in stopping cyberbullying, your children may need to report the cyberbullies to the relevant authorities, including parents and teachers.
Anita also advises parents to help their children find an identity outside of cyberspace as it’ll help strengthen the child’s ability to maintain emotional stability and cope with stress. “The support and concern from parents are paramount,” says Anita. “Parents should keep the lines of communication open and check-in with their children often. This will allow children to willingly share with you the information that they post online. In turn, it’ll help keep you in the loop, too.”
Useful resources about cyberbullying that you can turn to for help
1. Facebook, MediaSmarts and Media Literacy Council (MLC) – Think before you share guide
Check out this super-handy guide from Facebook, MediaSmarts and the Media Literacy Council (MLC) on how we should think before sharing any content or information on the interwebs – super useful for the kids and us, too.
2. Cyber Lite Books – Ready, Get Set, Connect!
We love this engaging resource written by Nina Bual and Michelle Yao, founders of Cyber Lite Books. Not only does it tackle all the important issues like online bullies, scammers and phishers, but it also does it in such an accessible and kid-friendly way. Each cyber villain is introduced throughout the book in manageable chunks with colourful illustrations. There are also loads of activities for the kids to complete, such as how to create a unique password, a cyber race game (which cleverly tests them on their learning without them realising!), and activities where they need to identify fake news!
3. Media Literacy Council (MLC) parent’s guide and resources
MLC has other resources dedicated to parents too. It has a guide on bringing up kids in the digital age, quick tips on helping your child cope with cyberbullying and even a handout for adults who might’ve been cyberbullied themselves (it’s true – it does happen!).
4. TOUCH Cyber Wellness hotline
The kiddos themselves can also reach out to several organisations for help. TOUCH Cyber Wellness is a solid place to start, or they could call TOUCHline, a helpline that provides counselling services for cyber wellness issues.
5. Singapore’s Children’s Society’s Bully Free SG website
Another great resource for the kids is Singapore’s Children’s Society’s dedicated website, Bully Free SG! It has helpful resources and tips on what to do if they are being cyberbullied.
With support from Singtel, this cyber wellness and digital parenting platform features content developed by experts from various groups under the TOUCH Community Service. Its section on cyberbullying contains useful tips on how to deal with cyberbullies, spotting signs of cyberbullying, and how to ‘bully-proof’ your child. There’s also an integrated instant messaging function on the website, should you or your child need someone to talk to.
7. DBS Singapore
There’s a good reason why this homegrown brand is known as Singapore’s neighbourhood bank! This article on its website shares cybersecurity tips to prevent cyberbullying.
8. CABCY (Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth)
This volunteer welfare organisation is a great place if you need resources on how to tackle cyberbullying. Plus, there are counsellors and social workers whom you can reach out to should you ever require to talk to someone about this subject.
Stay safe on the internet, kids!