Your Child and Cyberbullying, By IFEANYI MBAEGBU

The word bullying is a term parents, teachers and students are conversant with here in Nigeria and other parts of the world. Anyone who has gone through secondary school, at one point had experienced being bullied or bullied someone or has seen someone that was bullied. Cases of bulling is a frequent occurrence especially in boarding schools these days. Bullying can be a dreadful experience for a child. Sometimes it can be that serious to life threatening point, as we have heard in some schools in recent time in Nigeria.

Schools and parents are putting in so much attention and resources in attempt to curbing face to face bulling among teens, while neglecting another more dangerous form of bullying going on subtly under their very nose. Some parents who are at home with their children during these holidays may not have an inkling of the psychological agony their children who are under the same roof with them may be going through as a result of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place in the internet through the use of digital devices; cell phones and computers. It includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else for the purpose of harassing, scaring, angering or shaming the targeted person. It can also include sharing of personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying may go as far as crossing the line into criminal behavior.

Cyberbullying is greater and more dangerous than face to face traditional bullying because it can be extremely viscous. There is no escape for victims because they are exposed to the internet 24 hours and can be attacked at any time and in any place. Materials can be distributed worldwide and is often irretrievable. The invisibility and anonymity of cyberbullies makes it difficult to manage. It opens door for more youths to take part in bullying an individual child.

Regardless of the proliferation of ICTs which makes cyberbullying very common, only limited researches have been conducted on it in developing nations including Nigeria. Due to the big lacuna in reporting and documentation in literature relating to cyberbullying in our nation, this article will simply attempt to bring awareness of parents and educators to this very important subject matter by looking at its nature and psychological effects and how to forestall its occurrence.

The world of digital technology is constantly evolving with emergency of new social media platforms, apps, and devices manufactured daily with young people and teens being the major targets and consumers. They are among the first to experiment and use any new social media platform or digital device that enters the market. Given, the amount and nature of information available for consumption in the internet, consumers especially young people are liable to taking information that do not promote their well-being. This proliferation of smart devices and the rise of social media has transformed where, when and how bullying takes place online. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Youth Risk Behavior Survey 2019, 15.7% of students in grades 9-12 are reported being cyberbullied in 2019.

With the prevalence of social forums and gadgets to access the internet, it becomes pertinent that parents and teachers take the issue of online bullying seriously. It is now one of the dangers and negative consequences of the use of digital devices and online activities by young people. With increasing number of students in secondary schools who approach the school guidance counselors with cyberbullying related issues, it is time parents, teachers and caregivers paid more attention to online activities of their children. A lot is happening to your child each time he or she goes online.

Texting and digital messaging are a central way on how young people build and maintain relationships, unfortunately this level of connectivity is leading to potentially troubling and non-consensual exchanges of information. There have been cases of teens who admitted having received explicit images they didn’t ask for, while on the other hand there are those who admitted sharing explicit images of them with their contacts without their consent through sexting, posting hateful messages or content, and participating in negative group conversations. These experiences should be a big concern particularly to parents and teachers. School is often the first place a child experiences traditional bullying from where cyberbullying stems. School campuses are supposed to be safe for students’ interaction and learning, regrettably it is becoming the major place where young people also learn bad habits and all forms of antisocial behaviors with their deplorable negative consequences.

Psychological Effects of Cyberbullying

Psychological well-being implies the optimal functioning of an individual, reflecting quality of life and mood states. Cyberbullying jeopardizes the mental, emotional and physical well-being of youths and puts them at the risk of ethical and moral deterioration.

First noticeable signs on children who are bullied online or going through any form of online abuse are withdrawal and avoidance of discussion about what they are doing on online with anybody. They become unsociable, depressed, lose interest in group social interaction and activities. They are also likely to have mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, feeling overwhelmed or even suicidal. There is increased poor academic performance, and delinquent behaviors like drinking and substances abuse and criminality.

Based on the point of view of general strain theory, young people who experience cyberbullying will eventually develop anger and frustration in response, which then places them at risk for engaging in deviant behaviors. Youths who have experienced online victimization might engage in cyber bullying perpetration to release their anger and frustration. This implies that cyberbullying victimization can be a potent source of emotional and psychological strain among youths, which can in turn lead to deviant coping responses that has implications on their psychological well-being.

Causes of Cyberbullying

Parents, schools and mental health providers must not only be aware of cyberbullying and its consequences, but must also have access and knowledge on ways to deal with this growing concern. A healthy and well-organized environment is a prerequisite for the proper upbringing of a child. Violence and aggression are among the social vices a child can learn passively from a home where there is violence, where parents or caregivers respond authoritatively to a child’s emotional needs. Laughing off a child’s depraved demeanor, being overly lenient and low parental involvement in the life of a child can contribute to a child becoming a bully because he or she gets away with wrong doings.

A child who is not appraised and appreciated by the adults around him or her is likely to have a low self-esteem and the feeling of insecurity. In order to overcome that, the child may become a bully to become or feel more powerful.

Monitoring a teen’s social media sites, apps, and browsing history is as important as going through his or her academic records, and to do that effectively one will need to stay up-to-date on the latest apps, social media platforms, and digital slang used by children and teens. Know your child’s user names and passwords for email and social media where necessary.  Every parent should establish rules about appropriate digital, content, and apps and set a time when your child should be offline. Late night surfing of the net should be banned for your teens.

If need be, you may use parental control and monitoring software to set up systems that are less invasive to your children to protect them from harmful digital behavior, and exposure to adult content. There are free software and apps available to help parents restrict content, block domains, or view their children’s online activities, including social media, without looking at their children’s devices every day. While applying these measures, a parent should consider a child’s age because the measures used for a ten-year old child may not apply for a 16 years old teenager.

Cyberbullying needs to be taken seriously. If there has been a change in mood or behavior of your child, explore what the cause might be. Try to determine if these changes happen around a child’s use of the digital devices. Talk and ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who is involved, then take action to save your child.

Br. Ifeanyi Mbaegbu is of Marist Brothers of the Schools


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