LIFESTYLE - CYBERBULLYING is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.
After speaking to a number of primary school groups about digital safety recently, I have had sleepless nights as these insights from smart, nice kids paint a worrying picture of the extent of cyberbullying that these grades 4 to 7 boys and girls are experiencing.
Insights of primary school children about cyberbullying:
What do they say about being asked for or sharing, nudes or naked selfies?
Of course, these primary school children should not even be on social media, but they are.
* When it comes to sharing nudes or naked selfies, they said that surely it was okay if you are in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship or you are married. Their brains cannot comprehend yet that when relationships sour, revenge porn is one of the biggest issues social media lawyers are dealing with today amongst teens and adults. Once you have shared a nude, there is no telling when it might be used against you. Just don’t. Ever! It’s not if you will be asked for one but when.
* A number of 12 and 13-year old girls reported having shut down their Instagram accounts a number of times because of male stalkers. When they opened up new profiles, the same people started hounding them for nudes. These girls have up to 5 000 followers on Instagram at this tender age. They don’t want to give up social media because, despite the fact that they are anxious and fearful of the stalkers, they like the attention.
* A number of girls told me that photographs of their faces have been photoshopped onto naked bodies and circulated.
Why do they create Alter-Egos?
One young girl said she studied the people who followed her and what they liked, and then she consciously becomes what they are looking for. She has so many different personalities online that she said she no longer knew who she was, and that was now troubling her. However, she likes the attention, so she does not really want to stop playing the game. She said she knew she needed help.
Reasons for compulsive gaming:
Gaming can be both constructive and destructive, depending on the amount of time children spend in this immersive world, the types of games they play (and are they age-appropriate), and whether time spent gaming is balanced with real world activities like eating dinner together, physical activity, sport, playing other kinds of games.
* Many boys and girls report needing to be on social media and losing themselves in gaming to escape reality because real life itself was not happy or fun, with the following reasons being cited: absent parents, divorce, blended families where they get no attention, sibling fairness issues in the home where the favourite child is heard, but they are ignored, infidelity of one parent or another, and no-one paying them attention at home, among others. Of course, this is their perspective, and yours may be different.
* They love the reward culture of gaming that requires them to level up. This is feedback they crave to feel good about themselves.
What they don’t know?
* The single most important thing they learned that they did not know before my presentation is that the internet remembers everything, even what they delete. This is the same key learning for every learner audience I have had over the years. Every action they take online can be traced back for years by people smarter than you and I who search online reputations for a living. This freaked many of them out because of what they have already been doing online that could compromise their reputation in the future.
* That companies behind the apps are in it for profit, to make money, not to look after them psychologically and emotionally. That their attention is being manipulated by an algorithm for profit.
* Likes, follows and shares provide a dopamine high or a dopamine low that will impact on your child’s self-esteem, one way or another.
Do their parents know?
None of these children spoke to their parents about what was going on, and they went to bed at night (most of them with their cellphones) trying to fall asleep through their fear and anguish. They are under attack, and many of them are probably perpetrators of cyberbullying in some way, shape or form too.
These are nice kids. I loved my time with them. But even nice kids can be nasty or misbehave online or fall prey to other kids or adults online, mostly because of ignorance and because the attention game is the biggest game in town. Why don’t they tell their parents what is going on or ask for help? Because having their phone taken away would be social suicide.
Parents, you need to wake up long before you give your child a cellphone. These kids are too immature to deal with blackmail, extortion, revenge porn, stalking, being hounded down for nudes, cyberbullying, being socially excluded, and so much more.
Kids can’t deal with these issues in the real world, let alone the online world. It is not the school’s sole responsibility to deal with this, although many are making a valiant effort. You gave them the smartphone in the first place, didn’t you?
Let’s help our children make better choices online earlier. What will your child’s future-self thank you for?
* Bush is an award-winning speaker and best-selling author including Future-proof Your Child for the 2020s and Beyond. Catch her on Saturdays on Radio 702 just after 8am and on SABC3’s Expresso on Wednesdays. More information on her Facebook group: Parenting Matters with Nikki Bush