The South African Drug and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said yesterday that in the past they were only asked to counsel high school pupils, but because of the use of smartphones and social media more primary schools were now turning to the organisation for help.
Sadag said in September, three children aged 6, 9 and 12 committed suicide in different parts of the country within the space of two weeks. It said cyberbullies used social media platforms for spreading rumours at a younger age than before because of their easy access to technology.
“Children don’t know they are looking for suicide. They don’t necessarily understand suicide but would look for ways to fall asleep and never wake up because it hurts too much to stay alive,” said Cassey Chambers, the organisation’s spokesperson.
Every day Sadag fields about 600 calls from across the country and from various age groups. According to Chambers, the internet had changed the dynamics of bullying and it was now possible for anyone to be an offender. While there was now more awareness of bullying than in the past, there was still a lot happening at schools and teachers had no idea how to handle the situation.
Chambers urged parents and teachers to get professional help for victims and offenders as soon as possible because bullying could have a lifelong impact on children.
“Be aware that you teach your child to be tech savvy so that they know how to protect themselves and turn on the security settings.” She said parents also needed to set boundaries on how long their children could use their mobile devices each day and check the browser history.
Childline KwaZulu-Natal confirmed yesterday that bullying as a whole was on the increase between the ages of 11 and 17 and that cyberbullying was adding a new dimension to the problem.
Childline’s operations manager Adeshini Naicker urged adults to exercise caution when handing cellphones to children with a history of disciplinary and behavioural problems. “Handing a child a cellphone when he or she is too young is like handing your child a gun there is a lot of damage that a phone can do,” she said.
Naicker said it was critical for parents to have access to their children’s cellphones and to be active on their social network platforms as “friends” so that they could monitor their online activities.
She believed children should only receive smartphones when they were 17 or 18.
Naicker said in their experience WhatsApp was one of the most popular applications used in cyberbullying.
“It’s on the increase and a lot of children are scared of reporting it,” she said.
Naicker said cyberbullying was not always sexual in nature. Often the victim would be photographed and then messages typed into a speech bubble with a photo and circulated.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala urged victims of cyberbullying to open a case at their nearest police station.
“We are appealing to community members to be careful about information they post online and also to set their profiles private.”