Friday, 27 April 2012 14:07

NIGERIA: Protecting Your Child From Cyberbullying


Mrs Ismaila decided to visit the facebook page of Fatima, her 11 year old daughter and was shocked to see various posts on her wall like 'fat and lazy Fati', and pictures including that of a bloated woman with the tag ' As fat and ugly as Fatima.' To some of the posts Fatima responded with insults like one in which she commented on a status update by one of her friends on her page and one of the bullies wrote " always the same brainless, dull, tactless fati bombo- Fatima, you see your life?'

She noticed that the name calling and harsh words dates back to months and on asking her daughter about it learnt the bullying was being perpetrated by a boy in a class next to hers and his friends in the school. The way the poor girl responded to some of the hurtful comments, showed she must be really distressed by them.

When Mrs Ismaila discussed it with a friend , the friend told her , her own son had complained about pornographic videos and pictures being posted on his wall by some of his classmates who make mockery of his innocence and call him Mr sanctimony, holy priest among others.

Children are not just facing bullying on the play ground but also on the internet .They are exposed to technology at earlier and earlier ages, and spend more and more time connected to the internet thanks to laptops, smart phones, and tablets, and so fall victims of a kind of bullying called cyberbullying. These cyber bullies, taunt them online and on their cell phones and parents need to stay on top of what is taking place to help protect their children.

Cyberbullying involves bullying through Internet applications and technologies such as instant messaging (IM), social networking sites, and cell phones. It can start easily--with a rumor, a photo, or a forwarded message--and just as easily spiral out of control. Cyberbullying victims may be targeted anywhere, at any time.

According to the kidishealth site, "cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among young people. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber-harassment or cyber-stalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time."

Dr. Sharon Cooper, a Pediatrician warns, "Cyberbullying can affect the social, emotional, and physical health of a child.".

Mr Godwin Ijelekhai, a cyber expert in Abuja advises: "To deal with a cyberbully, your child should learn the proper responses. Engaging with a bully only causes more problems and your response could be circulated immediately so just tell your child not to respond to rude comments, e-mails, and messages, and pictures. You can also save them as evidence. Note the date and time when the bullying occurs. Contact your Internet service provider (ISP) or cell phone provider. Ask the website administrator or ISP to remove any Web page created to hurt your child.

Secondly, block the bully. Most devices have settings that allow you to electronically block emails, IMs, or text messages from specific people. Children should also block the bully from future communication, change their contact information especially if someone is pretending to be them, and save any bullying emails to share with you, your Internet service provider, and even the police if it becomes necessary.

So if the harassment is through e-mail, social networking sites or chat, instruct your child to block bullies or delete your child's current account and open a new one and if it is through messages on phone or phone text ,instruct your child to share the new number with only trustworthy people. You can also block the bully with your phone."

Experts on the National Center gave the following tips on protecting your children from cyberbullying.

Have a discussion

As in any healthy relationship, it's crucial to have open, honest communication with your kids. So set aside a few minutes to talk about cyberbullying. Let them know you're aware of it, you want to know if they're experiencing it, and, if they are, you definitely want to help put a stop to it. Most importantly, tell them you won't judge, even if there are photos, bad language, or other potentially embarrassing elements involved.

At the same time, make sure your kids know that it's not okay to harass others -- and that means explaining exactly what constitutes cyberbullying. The legal definition: "threats or other offensive behavior sent online to a victim or sent or posted online about the victim for others to see." The kid-speak definition: "sending mean or hurtful text messages, instant messages, email, tweets, photos, and so on."

In other words, just as you want to protect your kids from cyberbullying, you want to keep them from becoming cyberbullies, too.

Get involved

You pay attention to where your kids go after school, whom they hang out with, and all that, right? Extend that involvement and supervision, to their online activities. Find out which social networks they use (Facebook and Twitter are the most likely), create your own accounts on those networks, and friend/follow your kids. They'll probably object, but tell them that's the condition if they want to be online themselves.

Keep in mind that tech-savvy kids might know how to adjust their networks' privacy settings to keep you from seeing their posts--even if you're a friend or "follower." For a more effective monitoring solution, install parental-control software on the computers your kids use.

Supporting this view on monitoring your children online activity, Jennifer Shakeel another cyber expert said "there are many programs that you can download onto your computer or your child's computer that will track what they do online. It will log passwords and login names. You don't have to sit and look over their shoulders while they are online, but you should be paying attention to what they are doing and who is saying what to them.

Other tips given by National Center include:

Set limits

To lessen the chance your child will be a victim or perpetrator, set some limits. You might, for example, restrict laptop use to after-dinner hours, and make sure it happens out in the open, not sequestered away behind closed doors.

Likewise, consider setting up texting/instant-messaging filters so that kids can communicate only with family members and close friends. And use a shared account for email so you can keep an eye on what comes in and what goes out.

Jennifer Shakeel also gave the following additional tips:


We tell our children all the time to listen to us. When do we listen to them? Listen when they talk about school, their friends, things that are happening at school, things that are going on with their friends... listen when they are on the phone. Oh I know you are cringing, but how much will you cringe when your child is a victim of sexting? What will you do after your child has been bullied on the phone? They don't have to talk in the same room as you, but be close enough to where you can at least overhear what is being said.

When your child is the bully

Dr Michelle New, of Kidishealth advises when your child is the bully, "talk to the child firmly about his or her actions and explain the negative impact it has on others. Joking and teasing might seem OK, but it can hurt people's feelings and lead to getting in trouble. Bullying -- in any form -- is unacceptable; there can be serious (and sometimes irrevocable) consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues.

Sometimes it helps to restrict the use of their cell phones and computers until behaviour improves. Insist on strict parental controls on all devices if there is any history of your child making impulsive decisions when they are online."

Source: Daily Trust (Abuja, Nigeria)

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