This generation never knew a world without the Internet. With near on constant connection with their peers, social media has taken a dominant role in school age socialising. But much of this is invisible to us as parents.
Trolling, banter, anonymous messages, photo shopped images... cyberbullying isn't restricted to the playground, or at school. As with any other kind of bullying, most children will be affected at some point - either as victim, bully or witness. According to bullying campaigners Ditch The Label, in the UK 1.5 million young people (50%) have been bullied within the past year.
With many platforms not requiring identity verification, bullies can often harass their victims anonymously. Whilst victims often know the bully, this anonymity makes it harder to know if it's one person or several, and may cause the victim to question if they have enough evidence to tell an adult. The inability to escape from lies, rumours and abuse, and the often public nature of those comments can cause incredible distress - with half of victims in the UK experiencing a loss in self-esteem.
As parents, teachers, peers and friends it's often hard to recognise the severity of cyberbullying. Even children themselves may not realise the impact of their actions. With anti-bullying week beginning next week, it is critical that we place the spotlight on this particular type of bullying.
As an adult and parent we have an important role to play - to set the example, and the boundaries for acceptable behavior, and to actively support our children in finding their way in this social world.
It's easy to be intimidated by the platform and the technology, but treat children's online activities as you would any other activity - show your interest. To a large degree, the questions are related to socialising, and here you as a parent have far more experience than children and young people.
Types of Cyberbullying
Identifying behaviour that constitutes cyberbullying can be difficult. The act of fraping someone - through accessing their social media account and impersonating them can be seen by many to be harmless fun. But the combination of using it to ruin someone's reputation, and the difficulty in erasing any action undertaken, means it can take a far more sinister tone.
Other behaviours are easier to identify - deliberate acts to embarrass or publicly humiliate through posting private or embarrassing information online, and, trolling them by personally insulting an individual online to provoke a response.
The wounds of cyberbullying can be deep and long-lasting. Its impact to mental health doesn't necessarily stop when the harassment does. A guide developed by my own company showed that in the UK, 24 per cent of cyberbullying victims engage in self-harm as a way to cope. They are also over six times more likely to smoke regularly or develop a psychological disorder. And, perhaps most saddening, is that 2 to 9 percent are more likely to commit suicide. The reality of cyberbullying's impact is stark.
Preventing it occurring
Stopping your children from going online is not the answer. The internet is an incredible tool and will be a way that many develop life-long friends, seek knowledge and pursue their passions. But it is critical we take steps to support them, and help them navigate the connected world. To coincide with Anti-bullying week, I've included some of Norton's top tips to ensure your children stay protected through recognising some of its signs:
• They appear nervous when receiving a text/online message or email or begin avoiding their devices or using them excessively
• They make excuses to avoid going to school, their grades begin to decline or they act out
• They become defensive or secretive about online activity or delete social media accounts
• They withdraw from friends and family
• They have physical symptoms such as trouble sleeping, stomach aches, headaches, and weight loss or gain
• They appear especially angry, frustrated or sad, particularly after going online/checking devices
Even though cyberbullying is widespread, the good news is that some tactics can be deflected or recognised more quickly with secure internet behaviour and safety common sense. Educate your children through:
• Teaching young children to treat their password like a toothbrush, change it often and don't share with anyone to avoid your accounts being missused
• Creating your own set of family House Rules together with your children for online communication, downloading, website access, and cyber harassment. Explaining that children always should turn to an adult they trust in case they or somebody else get cyber bullied, so it can be reported and necessary actions can be taken
• Discussing the risks of posting and sharing private information, videos, and photographs, especially on social media websites.
• Be a good role model. Children are likely to imitate their parents' and adult's behaviour, so lead by example. Encourage children to only post things about other people that they would feel comfortable saying to them in person or would like to hear themselves.
• Encourage kids to think before they click - whether they're looking at online video sites, receiving an unknown link in an email or even browsing the web, remind your child not to click links which may take them to dangerous or inappropriate sites. Clicking unknown links is a common way people get viruses or reveal private and valuable information.