A local group says kids don’t really have a choice in whether they participate in the digital world anymore, so when cyberbullying issues arise, parents go with the obvious option – but it isn’t the right one.
Darren Laur, a former Victoria police sergeant and an expert in online safety with Langford-based The White Hatter, said young people are required to be online citizens if they want to keep up in the modern age, so phones and the internet have basically become new appendages for kids.
“To today’s generation, it’s just one world,” he said.
But that young generation’s digital reality also opens them up to the dark sides of the internet, with about one in four teens experiencing cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying encompasses a range of forms, including: threatening messages or texts, stealing passwords and putting harmful material on another user’s account, photoshopping a victim’s face onto a sexual or embarrassing photo, outing someone else’s secrets online, posting rumours and more. Laur prefers the term “peer aggression” because “bullying” has become so overused that even criminal behaviour is being diluted.
Unlike traditional face-to-face peer aggression, online abusers also have the benefit of anonymity in many cases.
Laur said this has resulted in a disconnect from their victims, where cyberbullies become uninhibited and they say things they never would in-person.
That means they aren’t seeing the consequences of their actions and, unfortunately, there have been several Canadian cases where online torment has led to young people committing suicide.
The growing body of knowledge, Laur said, finds parents are ill-equipped at handling kids coming to them about online abuse, and they almost always immediately take their child’s phone or computer away as a result.
Laur said that’s a mistake because it doesn’t address the underlying issue of their child being targeted and it’ll lead to the victim simply not coming forward the next time it happens, leaving them to suffer alone instead.
Studies of cyberbullied youth have also found they think parents – who didn’t grow up with the internet – overreact and become irrational when kids come forward.
Instead, Laur said parents should be calm and acknowledge the struggle their child has endured, before figuring out how far the bullying has gone.
Parents can also contact the parents of the aggressor, if they’re known, and provide evidence of their child’s troubling online behaviour.
The White Hatter says targeted kids should still reach out to a trusted adult whenever possible, and if the adult doesn’t take action, the youth should find another who will.
Other steps include not taking a bully’s bait online, blocking people, using privacy settings, reporting bullies to internet service providers and contacting police when threats, hate crimes or other criminal behaviour is involved.
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