A recent survey* revealed that 51% of participating South African parents said their children had been victims of cyberbullying.
We are living in a digital world where most parents feel that more can be done to counter the negative effects of cyberbullying amongst our youth. “Cyberbullying happens when digital platforms and devices are used to intentionally embarrass or harm someone over long periods of time. Victims could become isolated and the spiral of loneliness could lead them to very dark places,” says Cyber Wellness and Online Safety author and founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety, Rianette Leibowitz.
It takes many to stand together and fight the scourge of cyberbullying. To this end Leibowitz has partnered with popular chocolate brand Cadbury P.S. to help bring even more awareness to the issue through its #SayItLikeYouMeanIt initiative. The next step in this journey is the introduction of a WhatsApp-based chat line, to assist those who are victims of cyberbullying, or who worry that they may be exhibiting bullying behaviour themselves, with a safe platform to get the help they need.
“Today’s youth is growing up in an age of anxiety where cyberbullying can make them feel like they are disconnected and isolated. This in turn amplifies the bully in their head. Through #SayItLikeYouMeanIt, we are giving the youth a non-judgemental space where they can feel like they are heard and can reclaim their power. An important part of the initiative is centred on the use of the Cadbury Purple Heart to stand up against bullies. Based on the idea of building a community of support, users are encouraged to use the purple heart emoji in reply to instances of bullying that they may come across on social media and online platforms. and in doing so, show solidarity with victims and deter bullies from continuing,” says Lara Sidersky Mondelez SA Category Lead for Chocolate.
To access the chatline simply save 061 979 7217 to your contacts and send a WhatsApp message with the word HELP to activate the conversation. Users will be directed through a series of questions and based on their responses get guidance on how to deal with the situation. For severe cases, there will also be an option to receive further help from SaveTNet, an independent safety net for cybercrime victims who require assistance from experts.
Why cyberbullying is so dangerous
Unfortunately, the evolution of various social media platforms, and the anonymity they can give users, has meant that many people who use them feel like they have the right to say and do whatever they want online without consequence.
Leibowitz says, “Teenagers and young adults now have to deal with peer pressure from a physical and digital point of view. Plus they need to navigate the tension between maturity and responsibility. This means that both the bully and the bullied can behave and react in ways that may seem out of character. The opinions of their peers hold much more sway than they would later in life and that can have some unfortunate consequences.”
Cyberbullying can take many forms including unsolicited posts and comments on social media platforms, emails and other messaging platforms.
UNICEF advises parents to remain vigilant and identify the potential effects of cyberbullying in their young adults as: emotional challenges – feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things your child loves, physical challenges – tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches and mental challenges – feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even afraid, or angry.
“These symptoms may vary in its subtlety; therefore, parents and friends should always aim to create a safe space for their child to open up and share. Often the emotional impact of being laughed at or harassed by classmates or online trolls, can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. The impact of cyberbullying, however subtle, cannot be underestimated,” adds Leibowitz.
Social media is often used as a form of creative expression and connection. However many users don’t recognise, or want to take responsibility for, the consequences of what they share online, in many instances unintentionally opening the door for online ‘trolls’ to engage them without even realising it.
Leibowitz continues that a person’s value should not be determined by what others say about you online, or the amount of ‘friends’ you have or even your last status update but rather that it’s important to understand and establish the ‘filters’ that help you showcase only what you want to portray and not leave yourself exposed to negative responses. Leibowitz advises users to ask these questions before posting on social media:
- Why am I posting this and what response do I hope to receive?
- Am I ready to receive responses that are not what I expect or positive in nature?
- Will I allow myself time to process the responses before I respond?
- Am I being respectful towards others’ opinions and preferences?
If you decide to go ahead and post, first ask yourself is what I’m about to post truthful, is it helpful, is it inspiring, is it necessary and most importantly could it ruin my reputation?
How you can help
As parents and caregivers it is our responsibility to be informed about online dangers and to teach children about the risks when using the internet and social media.
For a parent or guardian, understanding how you can help your child who is being bullied can be difficult. Leibowitz suggests taking these steps:
- Educate children and teens about cyberbullying. Explain what the signs are, how to recognise these and let them know that they can come to you for help.
- Help them to identify and articulate what bullying is in their own language.
- Stay up to date on the privacy settings, terms and conditions and usage rights of the platforms your children use.
- Adhere to age restrictions specified by the platforms.
- Use parental control apps and set up a social media or internet usage agreement with your children so that you are both on the same page of what is acceptable or unacceptable online behaviour.
- Be interested and involved in your child’s online world and have regular conversations about the friends they meet, the games they play, and anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Understand that even if an account is set to private, and other users cannot see your children, they are still being exposed to the content and ensure that they understand this as well.
- Guide them to make informed and good decisions when it comes to the content they consume.
- Encourage children to call bullies out and use the Cadbury P.S. bar purple heart to show solidarity with victims. #SayItLikeYouMeanIt
If you are a victim of cyberbullying or want to understand more about cyberbullying behaviour contact the Cadbury P.S. Chat Line at 061 979 7217 and send a WhatsApp message with the word HELP to activate the conversation.
*Digimune 2021, cyberbullying survey of 200 South African parents