Keeping a track of what your child gets up to online can be difficult. Socializing via the internet and mobile phones is a recent phenomenon, with the impact it can have with children in and out of school a new thing to their generation. Whilst helping your child to use the internet and their phone wisely, it is important to understand the positives of social networking sites such as MXit, Facebook and MySpace - why they want to use them. Such sites provide instant communication with their friends, for example being invited to a friend’s party, or sending a happy birthday message. Children will often avoid telling their parents or teachers about a cyber problem, worried they will over-react, for example by removing their internet privileges. Understanding why they use them will make you more accessible as a parent or teacher should anything go wrong and additionally this should put your mind at rest about what they are getting up to.
As technology improves, it is becoming ever-more a part of our children’s lives, hence bullying has also began to change. Janine Shamos, a teacher and former counsellor trainer at SADAG, recently commented that cyberbullying is “one of the most destructive forms of bullying as it gives the bullies so much power, scope and anonymity.” She stresses the importance that a child needs an adult they can tell immediately about cyber-bullying before it progresses further. “Cyber-bullying has serious consequences and ramifications - children have killed each other and committed suicide after having been targets of cyberbullying.”
Please consider the below guidelines to help your child use technology safely:
- Be interested - ask your child who they talk to and what sites they use, and familiarize yourself with these sites,
- Use a parental control software such as Net Nanny,
- Limit the amount of time your child is allowed to use the internet or online gaming each day,
- Make sure the computer or laptop you child has access to is only used within a shared room, for example the study or lounge,
- If the above two points are difficult to enforce, you can consider using a log-in password to the computer that only you know,
- Limit your child’s phone credit,
- Emphasise the importance that your child does not talk to strangers online or via their phone,
- Talk to your child about the importance of not giving out any of their personal details or those of others, including phone numbers,
- Ask your child to set their profiles on social networking sites to private,
- Make sure your child reads and understands the terms and agreements of the sites they use,
- Chat-rooms are different from other social networking sites and are usually unsupervised, ask your child to avoid these.
Discuss these guidelines with your child and reach a mutual agreement about the issues. It will then still be important to watch out for signs that your child is being cyber-bullied, for example, a reluctance to use the computer or go to school may be indicators. It is also important to make sure your child is not the bully - due to the nature of cyber-bullying, a distant and potentially anonymous method, cyber-bullying is not always conducted by the children you expect.
If cyber-bullying becomes a problem for your child you may like to call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), or encourage your child to call SADAG, for advice and counseling. They can be reached on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393, seven days a week, 8am to 8 pm.
SADAG, who regularly addresses schools on bullying and suicide, recently went to a school where cyber-bullying, particularly via MXit, was seen as a major issue, causing many pupils great distress. Many children were concerned about rumours that can be spread around their school and others via the internet or cell phones “I got called bad things on Facebook by one girl and I was really upset and worried about what my friends thought of me and I didn’t know who to talk to because I was scared of getting in trouble”. Children were taught to be vigilant about information they send and to report any issues to an adult.
If you become aware of any bullying use the following guidelines:
- Meet with school officials and ask for help in resolving the situation, you could suggest an assembly or talk from an outside organisation such as SADAG,
- If the bully is from another school ask your child’s school to communicate with the relevant school about the issue,
- Ask that the school or psychologist keeps an eye out for in-school bullying and how your child is handling things,
- Report any inappropriate web content to a site administrator (look this up in the help menu) – administrators can delete this and block repeat offenders from using the sites
- Report any incident of online harassment and physical threats to your Internet Service Provider (ISP),
- If your child is bullied through a cell phone, report the problem to your phone service provider, if it becomes a persistent problem, they can help you change the phone number.
For more information on cyber-bullying or any issues surrounding the matter please go to www.sadag.co.za. For counselling, please call one of our counselors on 0800 567 567 or 011 234 4870, we are open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.