Of GCC youths openly ad­mit to the pres­ence of cy­ber bul­ly­ing amongst their peers

...the three-pronged ap­proach for par­ents in the chal­lenge to cre­ate a cy­ber safe en­vi­ron­ment

7 Days in Dubai - - NEWS -

f you ask par­ents what their big­gest con­cern is when it comes to cy­ber safety, the ma­jor­ity are likely to say cy­ber bul­ly­ing and on­line ha­rass­ment.

Par­ents of teenagers in par­tic­u­lar, will be well aware that in to­day’s con­stantly con­nected world, th­ese is­sues can eas­ily raise their ugly heads and the ef­fects on a vic­tim can be long-stand­ing.

Re­cent re­search from ICDL (In­ter­na­tional Com­puter Driv­ing Li­cence) Ara­bia, which ad­vises chil­dren, par­ents and teach­ers on cy­ber safety, shows that 37 per cent of teenagers in the UAE say they have come across some­thing wor­ry­ing or up­set­ting on­line. And one in two stu­dents in the North­ern Emi­rates ad­mit­ted they have ex­pe­ri­enced cy­ber bul­ly­ing or ha­rass­ment on­line.

This ha­rass­ment can come in a num­ber of forms: cruel or taunt­ing mes­sages sent to a child’s email or phone; ru­mours spread about a class­mate on so­cial me­dia or via mes­sage groups like What­sApp; un­flat­ter­ing pho­tos shared via mes­sage groups or so­cial me­dia.

Whichever an­gle it comes from, the re­sult is the same - dis­tress for the vic­tim and, be­cause it is on­line, they can­not es­cape it.

For par­ents and schools, the chal­lenge is cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which a child feels com­fort­able seek­ing out an adult’s help and sup­port if they find them­selves be­ing bul­lied. “Your chil­dren need to know that if they have a prob­lem on­line or if they see some­thing that is in­ap­pro­pri­ate or dis­tress­ing, then they can come to you,” says Cy­ber Safety Ad­viser Su­san McLean.

“Chil­dren are very tech savvy so they will likely be bet­ter than you at us­ing tech­nol­ogy but they are not cog­ni­tively de­vel­oped in an adult way, so they don’t have life ex­pe­ri­ence to deal with dif­fi­cult on­line sit­u­a­tions.” Barry Cum­mings runs Beat the Cy­ber­bully UAE, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­vides aware­ness and training for schools, par­ents and stu­dents. He agrees that communication is key, and to foster that, par­ents must stay up to date with tech­nol­ogy. “Our chil­dren know we are ‘dig­i­tal di­nosaurs’,” he ex­plains. And it is this per­cep­tion, that adults just won’t un­der­stand, that stops many chil­dren com­ing for­ward when they are in trou­ble. “So when we do our ses­sions, we out­line what is de­vel­op­ing on­line and hope that the ses­sion is a cat­a­lyst for par­ents to con­tinue their ed­u­ca­tion around what is go­ing on. “For the chil­dren,” Cum­mings con­tin­ues, “we fo­cus on the im­pli­ca­tions of what they are do­ing on all th­ese chan­nels. “Noth­ing is anony­mous on­line,” Cum­mings con­tin­ues. “Our mes­sage is: Stop. Think. Post. “Are you sure that you would be OK with that pic­ture, video, com­ment if it ap­peared on a bill­board on the side of Sheikh Zayed Road? “And if that did hap­pen, what would be

the im­pli­ca­tion for your on­line rep­u­ta­tion and for the per­son you have sin­gled out?”

So while chil­dren are think­ing more deeply about how to be­have on­line and par­ents are busy arm­ing them­selves with greater un­der­stand­ing of their chil­dren’s dig­i­tal lives - the next step is putting it all into ac­tion and start­ing a di­a­logue.

“We are all in­cred­i­bly busy and we don’t nec­es­sar­ily take enough time to look at what is go­ing on in our chil­dren’s lives,” Cum­mings says. “But we re­ally need to make time to talk about this is­sue with our chil­dren.

“We sug­gest bring­ing back that one hour for dinner. An hour where you sit down to­gether and all de­vices, in­clud­ing the TV, are turned off and you take time out to talk about what hap­pened to­day - pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive.

“We as adults, as par­ents, as care­givers have to amend our be­hav­iour to al­low our chil­dren to speak. We need to lis­ten and al­low them to know that this is a safe time to talk about what­ever they want.”

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