Cyber bullying has become a terrifyingly real part of everyday life for young people today.
The real problem with cyber bullying, according to Julie Parr, public education coordinator at Saffron Centre in Edmonton, is kids don’t seem to think what they do online is “real.”
The faceless aspect of texting and the online world isn’t as real to young people because they aren’t there in person.
“They don’t understand what they do online is real, it’s lasting and it can hurt someone,” Parr explained.
Kids spend a lot of their time online, interacting with their peers from school and many people they don’t know through online forums, chat groups, online games and even places like Instagram and Youtube.
Parr says it’s not just the words choices or the name calling. In online settings people are verbally abusive without a care of repercussions.
“A 7-year-old playing an online game, like Minecraft are told to kill themselves by fully grown adults. A 7-year-old,” said Parr.
This dynamic extends to comments on YouTube videos or photos on Instagram. Women and young girls are threatened with rape on many platforms.
Parr says it comes back to the anonymity of the online world.
“What is said or done online can be damaging and long lasting. Kids aren’t fully developed mentally until they are 25. These comments and terms can be very damaging to their growth,” Parr explained.
Along with the potential psychological damage bullying can do, Parr says what can happen online can affect someone’s future prospects, for school or jobs.
What happens online is lasting and permanent. Even apps such as Snapchat which is generally believe to be impermanent because the pictures are “erased” seconds after opening aren’t actually gone. Snapchat has databases that save every photo sent over its server, and it is very easy to take a screen shot of what is sent.
Because what happens on the Internet is permanent, it is easy for schools and employers to search you on social media before interviewing you.
“If they see your photos or videos online, or the comments you make to others, even if it was years ago, you can be passed over in favour of someone else,” said Parr, adding this is becoming a more and more common practise for colleges and employers.
The best practise to put in place is to talk to your kids and to be present in their world, according to Parr.
Parr says parents are disconnected from the world today’s youth live in, particularly when it comes to the Internet.
“Do your homework, research the sites your kids are on and if they are appropriate. There are even child-friendly versions of some popular sites out there,” Parr said, adding the child-friendly version of Goggle, called Kiddle, is a great way for kids to do their research for school and for parents to do their research. “It does about half of your homework for you.”
Being aware and present of your child’s activities online, and being able to talk to them and ensuring they feel safe talking to you, is key to fighting cyber bullying, according to Parr.