Cyberbullying was prevalent before the pandemic. Educational experts are concerned that it will increase as children spend more time on digital mediums.
With children spending so much time online learning or interacting with their peers, schools and parents need to encourage them to become kinder online citizens. Jackie Cook, COO of Africa’s leading online school, Teneo, says: “All schools in South Africa must review their bullying and harassment policies to include online and cyberbullying in its various forms. Online schools should have comprehensive policies and methodologies in place that ensure that students, teachers, and parents are able to confront this issue as it arises.”
Before the pandemic, 54% of SA parents knew of a child experiencing cyberbullying. This has likely increased.
Cyberbullying and the law
South Africa recently finalised the Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020, which is already regarded as a milestone for online harassment. Victims will soon be able to rely on criminal and civil law remedies to protect themselves from cyberbullying. Children also face the consequences of their cybercrimes as part of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, which regulates the way in which children are dealt with when accused and the consequences they face.
Read more about what the law says about bullying
Mental health and cyberbullying
“Young people tend not to be aware of the psychological damage that bullying can cause and, since there are seldom consequences to their cyberbullying, they see no reason to stop, says educational psychologist at Connectable Life, Fathima Badat. “They also fail to appreciate that any information, whether visual or verbal, once posted online, can never truly be erased – it becomes a permanent record, which can also rebound with significantly negative consequences for themselves.
Badat adds that cyberbullying can be more detrimental to children than traditional bullying as the attacks can occur 24/7 via different channels. The bullies are often able to hide their identity via fake accounts. “This can result in paranoia, fear or depression and increased anxiety; all of which can cripple one’s academic performance, personal relationships and communication with parents and teachers,” says Badat. Often, both the victim and perpetrator need psychological intervention or counselling.
Learning to be kinder
Condition children from an early age to know the consequences of their online behaviour. They must understand what their options are when dealing with cyberbullying and online harassment. Also, show them how to identify fake news and verify information.
“Schools should strive to develop ethical, global citizens responsibly integrated into and able to navigate the rapidly evolving digital universe. Digital literacy should be part of various online curricula, “says Cook.
Knowledge is power
Teneo can take immediate action if harassment occurs on its Learner Management System. The lines blur when the harassment happens via unofficial channels such as social media. “Despite this, we still encourage students to approach teachers for help,” says Cook.
Live online classes allow for more “off the cuff” conversations on this topic. Students and teachers develop meaningful relationships in comparison with recorded and less interactive online classes.
Although easier said than done, there should be a zero tolerance approach to cyberbullying in all schools. Parents need to have open conversations with their children about cyberbullying and harassment. They need to check in on their children regularly. Track social media channel use, especially with younger children. Also monitor their state of mind post-use – any instant change in behaviour could be a red flag.
For more information about Teneo, visit www.teneoschool.co.za.