The advent of affordable computers and easy access to the Internet has made us more dependent on them. Today, one does not even need a computer to access the Internet as other devices (eg tablets, smartphones, even printers!) are capable of doing so.

Children below the age of five are introduced to computers, and by the time they reach their teens, they have become somewhat of a “tech expert”.

The Internet is a place of learning

The internet has become a crucial part of any teen’s life because it is a gateway to a wealth of information. They can do their homework, research subjects and refer to quality material for assignments, from the comfort of home.

The internet is also a great way for teens to socialise.

Social media is widely used by teens (and indeed, adults) as a way to stay connected with friends and family anywhere, anytime.

Your children do not know a world without the internet or social media, and they can’t imagine being in a world without it.

The dark side of the Net

With the advancement of technology also comes new and an increasing number of threats, such as cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying happens when someone uses the Internet to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person.

According to the Microsoft Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey (2012), Malaysia is ranked 17th highest in cyberbullying among 25 countries surveyed.

The study also reported that 33% of children aged between eight and 17 years old have been subjected to some form of cyberbullying.

Two years after the study, further research revealed that cyberbullying incidents among school age children in Malaysia were on the rise, with 13–15-year-olds being the most common targets.

cyberbullying

Many parents worry that cyberbullying doesn’t stop even when the child leaves school. Photo: 123rf.com

Cyberbullies can be classmates, online acquaintances, and even anonymous users, but most cyberbullies do know their victims.

Here are some examples of what cyberbullies might do:

• Send a mean or threatening email, instant message or text message.

• Excluding someone from an instant messenger buddy list or Whatsapp group, or blocking their email for no reason.

• Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information, and then distributing it to others.

• Hacking into someone’s email or online account to send cruel or untrue messages while posing as that person.

• Creating websites to make fun of another person.

• Using websites to rate peers as prettiest, ugliest, etc.

• Incite hate for another person using information that is not true or made up, and posting it online.

Keeping your child safe from online bullying

Parents and carers need to be aware that there is a good chance that children have been involved in cyberbullying in some way, either as a victim, perpetrator or bystander.

While it may be tempting to block them from using the internet altogether, it is not a realistic way to prevent cyberbullying.

Instead, you can try to:

• Supervise their internet usage, set boundaries and teach them good online behaviour and etiquette. If a child breaks the rules, restrict internet access for an agreed period of time.

• Use the privacy settings, parental controls and built-in internet safety features provided.

• Encourage your child to come forward if they are being bullied, know of someone who is being bullied, or if they have knowledge of anyone being a bully.

• Monitor your child’s internet activity closely, and ensure that you play a vital role in your child’s life and get involved in your child’s activities.

• Teach children to treat others with respect and dignity, whether online or offline.

• Equip yourself with knowledge about cyber safety, cyberbullying, etc, and make sure your teen understands it as well.

• Model appropriate online behaviour.

• If your child admits to being bullied, assess the situation, collect evidence, reassure your child and lodge a police report. If the bully is someone you know from school, also file a complaint with the school authorities.

Tell your teens to:

• Never give out personal information online for whatever reason.

• Talk about cyberbullying and let them know you are always there to listen and help if they need it.

• Never tell anyone their password and always log out of accounts or computers after use.

• If someone sends a mean or threatening message, don’t respond. Save it or print it out and show it to you or another trusted adult.

• Do not open anonymous emails/spam or emails/messages from someone who has been bullying you.

• Don’t post compromising pictures online.

• Think before posting anything online and always be polite online even when others are not.

Cyberbullying is a crime and a serious problem amongst teens, and should not be taken lightly. Bullies can be convicted under the Computer Crimes Act, the Penal Code or the Juvenile Act, depending on the nature or severity of the case.

As parents, we cannot make the world a perfectly safe place for our children, but we should try our best to be available to them and provide counselling, comfort, and safety.

Education and awareness are important to ensure that our children do not fall prey to the threat of cyberbullying.


Dr Nazeli Hamzah is a consultant paediatrician and past president of the Malaysian Association for Adolescent Health. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my or visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.