The advent of affordable computers and the easy-access to the internet has made us more dependent on them. Today, one does not even need a computer to access the net since other devices (e.g. tablets, smartphones, even printers!) are capable of doing so. Children below the age of 5 are introduced to computers and by the time they reach their teens, they have become somewhat of a ‘tech expert’.

The Internet Is A Place Of Learning

The internet has become a crucial part of any teen’s life because it is a gateway to a wealth of information. They can do their homework, research subjects, and refer to quality material for assignments, from the comfort of home.

The internet is also a great way for teens to socialise. Social media is widely used by teens (and indeed, adults) as a way to stay connected with friends and family anywhere, anytime. Your children do not know a world without the internet or social media, and they can’t imagine being in a world without it.

The Dark Side Of The Net

With the advancement of technology also comes new and an increasing number of threats such as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying happens when someone uses the internet to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.

According to the Microsoft Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey (2012), Malaysia is ranked 17th highest in cyberbullying among the 25 countries surveyed. The study also reported that 33% of children aged between 8 and 17 years old have been subjected to some form of cyberbullying. Two years after the study, further research revealed that cyberbullying incidents among school age children in Malaysia were on the rise with 13-15 year olds being the most common targets.

Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most cyberbullies do know their victims. Here are some examples of what cyberbullies might do:

  • Send a mean or threatening email, instant message, or text message.
  • Excluding someone from an instant messenger buddy list, or Whatsapp group or blocking their email for no reason.
  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and then distributing it to others.
  • Hacking into someone’s email or online account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person.
  • Creating websites to make fun of another person.
  • Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.
  • Incite hate for another person using information which is not true or made up and posting it online.

Keeping your child safe from online bullying

Parents and carers need to be aware that there is a good chance that children have been involved in cyberbullying in some way, either as a victim, perpetrator, or bystander. While it may be tempting to block them from using the internet altogether, it is not a realistic way to prevent cyberbullying. Instead:

  • supervise their internet usage, set boundaries and teach them good online behaviour and etiquette. If a child breaks the rules, restrict internet access for an agreed period of time.
  • use the privacy settings, parental controls and built in internet safety features provided.
  • encourage your child to come forward if they are being bullied, know of someone who is being bullied or if they have knowledge of anyone being a bully.
  • monitor your child’s internet activity closely and ensure that you play a vital role in your child’s life and get involved in your child’s activities.
  • teach them about treating others with respect and dignity whether on- or offline.
  • equip yourself with knowledge about cyber safety, cyberbullying, etc., and make sure your teen also understands it as well.
  • model appropriate online behaviour.
  • if your child admits to being bullied, assess the situation, collect evidence, reassure your child and lodge a police report. If the bully is someone they know from school, also file a complaint with th school authorities.

Tell your teens to:

  • Never give out personal information online for whatever reason.
  • Talk about cyberbullying and let them know you are always there to listen and help if they need it.
  • Never tell anyone their password and always log out of accounts or computers after use.
  • If someone sends a mean or threatening message, don’t respond. Save it or print it out and show it to you or another trusted adult.
  • Do not open anonymous emails/spam or emails/messages from someone who has been bullying you.
  • Don’t post compromising pictures of themselves online.
  • Think before posting anything online and always be polite online even when others are not.

Cyberbullying is a crime and a serious problem amongst teens and should not be taken lightly. Bullies can be convicted under the Computer Crimes Act, the Penal Code or the Juvenile Act, depending on the nature or severity of the case.

As parents, we cannot make the world a perfectly safe place for our children, but we should try our best to be available to them to provide counselling, comfort, and safety. Education and awareness are important to ensure that your children do not fall prey to the threat of cyberbullying.

An educational contribution by Malaysian Paediatric Association.

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