- Created on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 10:26
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By CHRISTOPHER BREEN
As children and teenagers spend more time online than ever before, bullies have followed them from their schoolyards and classrooms into their computers and smartphones.
Cyberbullying has emerged as a daunting social problem. It’s a growing concern and there are no signs of it slowing as children and teenagers gain more access to the digital world. According to Statistics Canada, “more than one-half of Internet users (58 per cent) accessed the Internet via a wireless handheld device in 2012, up from 33 per cent in 2010.”
Andrew Dane, one of Canada’s leading experts in the field of bullying and childhood aggression and a professor at Brock University has turned his attention to cyberbullying.
“Parents worry their child is being victimized,” Dane said in an interview. “It’s about good communication and talking to the child. And sometimes kids are reluctant to talk about it.”
Young children are using cellphones and tablets earlier than ever, making them cyberbullying targets. According to the U.S.-based Cyberbullying Research Centre, 52 per cent of children use social media before the age of 13.
“Cyberbullying is relatively new,” Dane said. “A lot of adults didn’t grow up facing this. There is a lot of educating to be done.”
Dane said studies have found a link between cyberbullying and what experts call “relational aggression” which is a way to hurt somebody by manipulating their relationships or damaging their reputations by excluding them from certain groups or by gossiping.
Traditional bullying was done in the real world by talking behind someone’s back or organizing a group of friends to exclude someone. Now, it’s being done more with the use of electronic devices; the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, texting and even email have become the tools of cyberbullies.
Ontario Provincial Police Det. Sgt. Paul Thompson, an investigator with the Child Sexual Exploitation Unit, said one of the jumping off points for cyberbullying can be sexting.
“If a boyfriend or girlfriend sends an intimate photo and then break up, one of the party isn’t going to be happy about it,” Thompson said. “That photo could be sent around amongst friends and sometimes end up on the Internet before coming back around to the victim.”
Thompson is dealing with that very situation right now as part of an on-going investigation in an Ontario school.
“How would you feel if 1,200 students [saw] a picture intended only for your boyfriend or girlfriend?” Thompson said is a question he asks a lot of young people.
Michelle MacIntosh, a counsellor at Niagara College, said it’s about privacy.
“If a phone rings in your house your mom’s going to answer the phone. Your dad’s going to answer the phone, the kid’s are going to answer the phone,” MacIntosh said. “If a text comes up on the cellphone we should feel comfortable as parents and family members to pick up the cellphone.”
With technology such as cellphones and tablets in the hands of more children, parents need to get involved and be comfortable reading their text messages and Facebook messages.
“There’s this element of privacy that is creating a problem because you can say whatever and think your parents aren’t going to read it,” MacIntosh said.
Communication between parents and children is key, experts say. The question that arises is who is responsible for the communication. The parents of the bully or the bullied? The answer is a simple one, everyone is responsible.
“I think [however] that parents of bullies need to be brave enough to stand up and make their children stop bullying,” MacIntosh said.
Dane said he believes bullied children are more reluctant to talk because some feel they will be punished by being denied access to social media and websites they enjoy using.
“If it’s happening on a cellphone,” Dane said, “they don’t want that cellphone taken away and they don’t want to lose their privileges to use Facebook.”
The problem is that there is no easy solution.
Education seems to be the first step on the road to curbing cyberbullying. Today is international Pink Shirt Day, an anti-bullying awarnesss campaign that started in Canada.
Through various channels adults and children need to know how cyberbullying happens and how it can affect people.
It’s something that both genders are known to do however, females are more likely to stay away from the physical bullying whereas males will do all of it, both physical bullying and cyberbullying.
“Males and females do cyberbullying, it’s not just something that’s the domain of one gender,” Dane said.
In recent years the media has followed major cases of two Canadian teenagers, Amanda Todd of British Columbia and Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia. Both young women were the targets of cyberbullying and both committed suicide.
Parents, police, experts, support groups and governments have all tried to help deal with the problem.
The website PREVNET is the leading authority on bullying prevention in Canada and provides research and resources in the field. The group is a network of research scientists and national serving organizations launch in 2006.
“PREVNET operates to create a national hub for prevention and research,” Danielle Quigley, a researcher with PREVNET, said in a phone interview.
Working with more than 50 organizations across Canada, PREVNET partners with the Big Brothers and Sisters Club, the Boys and Girls Club, the Canadian Red Cross and Facebook Canada, to name a few.
“We work with 28 universities and approximately 90 researchers,” Quigley said. “There is no blanket solution for every situation so we need tailored strategies.”
The mission of PREVNET is to stop bullying in Canada completely and to help Canadian children and youth by promoting safe and healthy relationships.