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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:

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:

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.