More kindness for kids

Combatting online bullying requires an inclusive approach


Growing audience

Dean McCoubrey, founder of digital skills education company, MySocialLife, and Digital Parenting Club, says the biggest problem is that children on social media are getting younger and younger, while the content they are exposed to is getting harder to control. It’s estimated that a third of children aged seven to nine and half of tweens aged 10 to 12 use social media, despite the 13+ age restrictions on most social media platforms.

Several studies conducted in recent years revealed that South Africa is rated in the top five globally for cyberbullying. McCoubrey says the behaviour is peaking at the age of 13, 14 and 15. “Driving the increase in bullying are power dynamics, fear, insecurity, anxiety or personal exposure to aggressive and dominant behaviours that result in harassment and the invisible erosion of self-esteem.”

Cyberbullying, he adds, is an invisible tormenter, hiding behind screens and evading parents and teachers. “Even friends can miss the signs. Low self-esteem can make children assume they deserve to be bullied or inhibit their ability to recognise it. Tweens and teens also fear retaliation and worry that speaking up will only make things worse.”

McCoubrey says it’s important to understand the root causes of bullying and, in the case of cyberbullying, it’s not so much the devices that are to blame but rather invisible family trauma and deep-seated anxiety and anger that exist within our society and which have been aggravated by socio-economic challenges and a surge of ever-younger online users.

Education, he maintains, needs to address critical life skills like empathy, but in a relatable way, and help children to understand feelings and how to process them. “The best way to address bullying is showing learners the long-term wins of being sharper than the rest online, how to communicate in conflict, how to manage cyberbullying and how to self-regulate.” Esterhuizen agrees, adding that, “Every school day in a learner’s life needs to be impactful and positive. The more tools we can provide our children with to ensure happy and emotionally healthy educational journeys, the better.”

Text | Supplied

Photography | SynthEx

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