By Kartik Bajoria
With modern lifestyles, technology and growing exposure to an otherwise liberating digital revolution, come pitfalls too. As more children use tech and digital technologies, devices, connected learning, augmented education is here to stay. However, it also exposes unsuspecting children to a new-world phenomenon – cyberbullying – where children are subjected to abject ridicule, humiliation, lowering confidence and self-esteem.
Getting hate-messages and being trolled of across social media platforms, chat platforms, gaming platforms even, children today can be harshly targeted by nameless persons who can permanently dent the self-worth of an impressionable child.
So how can we as parents safeguard our kids? Let us first be aware of the ways in which children are targeted, for it is only when we know how and where, will we know how to prevent it. The crux of the matter is the two primary outcomes of cyberbullying – the first is disrepute. Spreading falsehoods, rumours, compromising pictures and videos, creating fictitious online identities or content can all bring damaging discredit to a child. The second and potentially more harmful outcome of cyberbullying is damaging self-concept. Trolling, making fun through posting hurtful messages on public and popular digital platforms, inciting racial targeting, issuing threats can render them socially incapacitated.
So how, as parents, can we prevent and/or deal with this kind of detrimental cyber-targeting?
Being aware of the child’s online life is very important. Not only should we be aware of where, when, and how much children are ‘living digitally’, we should also try and strike a healthy balance between online and offline time.
There will also be some tell-tale signs that parents would do well to be aware of. These relate mostly to the child’s behaviour, such as the following:
Huge fluctuations in the amount of online-time. Extreme emotional reactions to activities on connected devices. Skirting any discussion about online activities. Hiding devices and shutting screens in the presence of an adult/parent. A growing reluctance to engage socially. Seemingly unprompted termination of social media/online accounts. Depressed and disconnected behaviour. All these are signs that the child might be the subject of some manner of cyberbullying.
Now that we are aware of the indications of potential cyberbullying, the natural corollary is how to deal with it. There are two aspects to this post-bullying scenario. One is support and the other is report. Help needs to be offered from two standpoints – one is emotional support at the home-front, and the other is using authorities and laws effectively. The former requires a bit of dexterity. Without seeming intrusive, the key is to talk to your child. Express your wholehearted support, no matter what, and your child will eventually come around and share exactly what happened in the first place. Once this talk has taken place, you can’t suddenly change tracks and become reprimanding. It is like dealing with any post-traumatic situation.
The child doesn’t need a lecture, rather unconditional reassurance. Their entire self-worth has been shattered. The situation calls for sensitivity and care. Once you provide that emotional anchor, see how the child is behaving. If the behavioural problems persist, further healing is needed, which can come from family, and if required, from a professional mental-health practitioner.
The other facet of this is to report the crime (and cyberbullying is very much a crime) to the correct authorities. Try and present a record of the child’s online activity that includes the bullying incident to the Cyber-Crime Branch and take legal recourse. In doing so, you will do your bit to ensure that cyber-bullies don’t go scot-free.
There was a time when our children stood the risk of being bullied at school, in the colony, or in other physical spaces they frequented. Many would agree that those were still controllable environments and parents could monitor them. Cyberspace with its infinite endlessness is simply too vast to contain, and threats loom large, constantly. The only way of anticipating them is by close observation of children, and by sharing a friendly rapport with them in the first place, where ideally, they would themselves come and share any worrisome incident. It’s a dangerous new world, and as parents, we need to be on guard!
(Kartik Bajoria is a writer, educator and moderator.)