As a parent in the digital age, there are few things that play on our minds more than digital safety. Is my child being victimised, or bullying someone else? Are they being contacted by people they shouldn’t be? Are they exposed to content I wouldn’t want them to see?
Next week – from Monday October 7 thru to Sunday October 13 – is ‘Stay Smart Online Week’, an initiative implemented by the Australian Government to raise awareness about ways people can protect themselves online. And, thanks to a Core Data study of 5000 Australians released recently, the technological concerns of Australian families are being talked about once again.
According to the research, protecting our children from online bullying and harassment is our third highest concern. But due to unprecedented access to social media platforms – being constantly online, unable to really ‘switch it off’ and escape – and the untraceability of online attacks, it’s easy to feel helpless as a parent.
So, who can we turn to?
Robyn Treyvaud is an internationally recognised expert in online safety and digital health and wellbeing, and the Head of Education at Family Insights Group.
Having established Cyber Safe Kids in 2008 – an educational consultancy that partners with Federal and State governments, media, schools and communities to educate, empower, and engage people about cyber safety, digital health and wellbeing, and resilience – Robyn sees the causes and effects of cyberbullying every day.
“Parents do not know how to keep their kids safe when they are constantly exposed to screens and social media influences,” says Robyn. “The report highlights bullying as a major family concern, with 51.4% of families concerned about this. Of those 65.2% feel that social media is a contributing factor to this concern.”
We asked Robyn the hard-hitting questions surrounding cyberbullying. Here’s what she had to say…
What forms can cyberbullying take?
Cyberbullying can refer to anything from account hacking and deliberate online defamation to setting up fake accounts to trick others or imitate someone else. Some other forms include: repeatedly trolling or harassing someone online; repeatedly sending mean, threatening, or hurtful messages and comments; encouraging another person to self-harm; sharing images of someone without their consent (which can also be considered image based abuse); spreading nasty rumours about another person online; forcibly excluding someone from an online group; and stealing someone’s passwords or changing their personal information and privacy settings.
What signs might indicate that your child is the victim in a cyberbullying situation?
If they’re showing sudden or drastic changes in their online interaction – for example, becoming increasingly attached to their electronic device and growing obsessed with constantly being online, or all of a sudden showing no interest in even touching their device – you may have reason to be alarmed. Also, like with face-to-face bullying, they may never want to go to school or even leave the house. Another thing to watch for is children who seem nervous or reluctant to let you see their phone, computer or tablet, or become incredibly defensive when asked about what they’re doing or who they’re talking to online. They may also be constantly sleep deprived, irritable, or quick to anger.
What signs might indicate their child is the perpetrator in a cyberbullying situation?
Your child may be secretive about online activities because they do not want to be discovered, or switch computer screens or close the screen when you walk by. They may use their device late at night or unsupervised, or be extremely upset when their computer privileges are revoked. They may also have multiple accounts with a fake name.
What is the first step a parent should take if they believe their child is being cyberbullied?
If you or your child encounter offensive, illegal or abusive material online, it’s important to know that there are certain actions you can take. Utilise the ‘report abuse’ function on the app/website the bullying took place on and block the user, but not before collecting evidence by taking screenshots of the abusive content. You can requesting for the content to be removed and notify the police, or submit an official complaint to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
“Stand up to cyberbullying when you see it,” Robyn says. “Take action to stop something that you know is wrong.”
And what if my child is the perpetrator?
Teach your child effective conflict management skills so they can handle disagreements or upsetting situations with their peers effectively. Remind them that, just because they cannot see the person’s face, there is a living breathing human being on the other side of every on-screen interaction. Help them develop empathy and resilience and explain that, even if they aren’t the one who uploaded an embarrassing photo or made a mean status about someone, if they like or share it then they are being a bully by making the situation worse for the victim. Be sure to talk about how it feels to be left out or teased in a manner that they can relate to.
What rights do I have when it comes to addressing cyberbullying? Who can I turn to?
If an Australian child is a victim of cyberbullying, you can submit a complaint directly to the eSafety Commissioner Office. Adult victims of serious cyberbullying and online harassment, stalking or threats can make a report to ACORN. If the bullying and harassment is occurring on social media, it’s worth reporting the inappropriate activity on the site as well.
If you have experienced image-based abuse there are a number of actions you can take, including reporting the material on the applicable social media service or website, making a report to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, and in some instances, you may also need to contact the police.
If you have concerns about defamation, it’s recommended that you seek independent legal advice. You should also contact the website administrators to request that the content be removed.
Privacy Complaints about the mishandling of personal details by a Commonwealth or ACT government agency, or a private sector organisation can be made to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
The Australian Human Rights Commission investigates complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying based on a person’s sex, disability, race or age. If your personal safety is at risk, please contact your local police.
If you are in immediate danger call Triple Zero (000). You may also wish to seek independent legal advice to determine other avenues of action.
Finally, who is responsible for dealing with cyberbullying situations involving children? Parents, teachers, police?
Young people face a significant challenge in responding to cyberbullying, as it’s unclear which adults should take responsibility for responding to it. Parents express a lack of understanding, knowledge and time to support their child and schools are unsure about how and when to intervene in online behaviours that occur off-site yet involve their students. Law enforcement is hesitant to get involved unless there is evidence of a crime or a significant threat to someone’s physical safety.
Furthermore, while it’s natural for parents to want to make the hurting stop as quickly as possible (i.e. take away the device, forbid future contact with the aggressor) the most important immediate response is to make sure they feel [and are] safe and convey unconditional support through words and actions.
We need to remember that, when a child is being bullied and they come to a parent for help, all they want is for the bullying to stop.
To read the full report, head to www.realinsurance.com.au.