Children in the US reported the most social media bullying on Facebook. Photo: Pinterest
Chilling images of children bullying one another seem to have increased exponentially over the past decade, going viral in a matter of hours once uploaded to the internet. Could hiding behind a keyboard and anonymity be feeding the scourge many children are falling victim to?

Janine Shamos, a teacher and former counsellor trainer at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), seems to think so.

“Cyberbullying is one of the most destructive forms of bullying as it gives the bullies so much power, scope and anonymity,” she says.

A recent Ipsos Global Advisor study carried out in 28 countries found that South Africa showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying.

Of those surveyed, 60% knew a child who had been bullied by a classmate, while two-thirds of parents reported that the bullying took place on social networks.

Radio and TV presenter Terence Pillay has been a staunch supporter of anti-bullying campaigns over the years. “Bullying is fast becoming one of the biggest challenges that we face and the results for children who are being bullied can be grim,” he says.

Pillay observed that children are often too scared to say anything, and it’s for that reason that up to 85% of bullying continues. 

Child rights specialist Joan van Niekerk says bullying can take a variety of forms, from physical to verbal, and the effects can be devastating for the child.

SA showed the highest prevalence of cyberbullying, according to a Ipsos Global Advisor study. Photo: Pixabay

“Some children refuse to go to school when the bullying is severe and it creates anticipatory anxiety.”

But bullying doesn’t occur only in the classroom and on the playground. “With today’s modern and sophisticated phones, cyberbullying is quite pervasive,” Van Niekerk says.

Cyberbullying has become an area of grave concern in recent years, and thus far no real convictions have taken place, but hopefully that’s all set to change as the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development tables an updated version of the Cybercrimes Bill.

“It has serious consequences and ramifications - children have killed each other and committed suicide after having been targets of cyberbullying,” Shamos says.

As parents, it is our job to educate our children about the dark side of social media.

“We are a vulnerable society and bullies exploit this,” Mari Harris, of Ipsos South Africa, says. “Cyberbullying is no different to other forms of bullying where insecure children project these emotions onto others.

Parents should be more open to talking about bullying and let kids know that unpleasant things can happen online.”