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
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.”