Ms. Dawson was the victim of a horrendous cyber-bullying attack via Twitter resulting in her hospitalisation in the early hours of Thursday morning. This incident is unfortunately not an isolated one. Cyber-bullying is occurring more and more frequently and this recent event only highlights the need for something to be done to make these online users more accountable for their actions.
Defamatory, insulting comments or threats of violence are never acceptable, whether it be face to face or from behind a keyboard. There needs to be consequences and laws put in place to protect people. Freedom of speech has gone too far.
Cyber-bullying is prevalent particularly on Facebook and Tumblr for our teenagers.
Just this week our 14 year old daughter posted on her Facebook account the following:
PLEASE READ: At 8pm I will be deactivating my Facebook and Tumblr accounts … I want to have a life.
Our mind immediately jumped to the worst case scenario. Was she being bullied? Had we missed the signs?
The online world is a tricky one for us parents to deal with. It is addictive, easily accessible and fraught with many dangers and risks that our kids’ young developing brains can’t yet comprehend. Dangers and risks from which no amount of boundaries and monitoring can protect them.
Ask any teen and they will be able to tell you stories about themselves or someone they know being cyber-bullied. Things have changed. Gone are the days when bullying occurred behind the lunch shed or behind the victim’s backs. Today the bullies act cowardly from the safety of their keyboard under anonymous or fictitious avatars, spewing forth an emotional torment of humiliation for all to see.
While our daughter has been exposed to some online bullying, her way of dealing with it has been to ignore it and her decision to close her Facebook and Tumblr accounts is one beyond her years. She simply wants to have a life, without becoming caught up in faceless and often nasty online scenarios. Unfortunately many teens who are bullied are not as strong and emotionally equipped to cope.
One of our daughter’s friends has a Tumblr page and some of the anonymous comments are so brazen they are beyond belief.
“you’re a filthy slut. everyone fucking hates you. You’re the fattest thing I’ve seen. ask anyone. they all agree! your such a bitch. some days i feel like putting you in a shallow grave. your ugly.”
“wow. your actually really dumb. i would know because im in your class.. go back to primary school. dumb fuck”.
“im sorry, i just hate you so fucking much. you annoy the fuck out of me! fuck.”
You won’t need to look hard to find more stories like this and worse. Only recently the issue was highlighted with 19 year old Olivia Penpraze, who committed suicide after being subjected to horrific and shocking cyber-bulling.
It makes me terribly sad to think what some of these kids are dealing with and to know that many will not tell their parents fearing further embarrassment, shame and concern that their online world will be taken away from them.
So what can you do to ensure your child is protected online?
When this kind of thing is going on in the adult world such as with Charlotte Dawson, it is obvious what we are doing is not working.
There’s no doubt it’s a huge problem, and we can and should lobby for change to current harassment laws to ensure that they can be enforced and applied to the online world.
As adults, we are supposed to be setting an example for the next generation on what is right and what is wrong. This need to start at home.
Talk to your kids from an early age about respect, manners and empathy. Speak with them about bullying, what it is and how it impacts the other person. Set online boundaries and guidelines and monitor their presence.
Engage and be plugged into your child’s behavior. Be aware of any changes in behavior no matter how slight or insignificant they may seem. Take note of changes in their attitude, other than the ‘normal’ teen mood swings, withdrawing from communicating with you, receding from social situations, changes in the way they interact with siblings; these are all signs to be aware of.
Our daughter’s situation, and that of her friend, was a reminder to us to continue to stay aware and be plugged in.
Finally, don’t be afraid to speak out against these bullies. Make them accountable. Rally for change not only in our laws, but also the user agreements and responsibility of social networking sites which currently make it so easy for anonymous users to set up fake accounts.
Make it happen. It is not okay. Stand up now.
If you think cyber-bullying is everyone’s problem, why not share this with your friends by “liking” this article below.
Have you or your child been attacked by cyber-bullies? How did you deal with it? Leave a comment below.
If you need to speak with someone please contact Lifeline – 13 11 14 and www.lifeline.org.au or Beyond Blue at www.beyondblue.org.au
For more information on cyber-bullying please visit cybersmart.gov.au