Thursday, 01 Nov 2018

Early intervention key for online bullying

Online trolls and bullies can now be jailed under legislation introduced in October.

The State Government’s announcement is to be applauded. This kind of sickening online abuse and intimidation deserves to be punished properly.

But with this important step underway it’s now vital we focus sharply on early intervention.  Online bullying starts as early as junior primary school and often parents feel like they’re playing a big game of catch up. The kids are always one step ahead.

Many NSW parents have expressed their concerns to me and asked for direction.  One Sydney mum talked about her 12 year old girl who was inconsolable after being excluded from a group and teased on Instagram. A parent of a 13 year old boy expressed her horror that a tween girl had sent a “nude” pic to her son’s friends.  In another example, a school’s student email system had been breached by a student who’d assumed the identity of another girl and sent nasty messages under her name.

This is not just a NSW problem. It is a problem for parents and children everywhere.

We conducted a study of 2200 parents. What was their biggest concern for their kids? Top of the list came cyber-bullying, followed by illicit drugs and then alcohol.

Life Education, which is now global, was founded in Kings Cross at the Wayside Chapel almost 40 years ago in response to the heroin epidemic.  With its iconic mascot Healthy Harold the giraffe, its focus has, for many years, been on drug and alcohol education. But in 2018 it is our cyber bullying programs which have been the most popular, with almost 40,000 children participating in the lessons in NSW alone.  Schools are telling us they need support in this area. Parents are also demanding it.

As a parent of three children, I share these concerns. I feel like I can handle the drugs chat, the alcohol chat, the respectful relationships chat… but when it comes to the online world I know that the kids leave me for dust.

As parents, we can set rules and boundaries but we have to “program” our kids to make safe and respectful choices when we’re not around.

So what’s the advice I give when asked? It’s going to depend on the age of your child, but as a starting point:

  • Set boundaries at home such as keeping devices out of bedrooms and limiting screen time. Perhaps set up a charging station in the kitchen for all family members (parents included!)
  • Try to keep your children off of social media until the minimum age. For Instagram,  Snapchat and Facebook that’s 13.
  • Talk to your school if you have concerns. They have excellent management plans and most manage bullying situations well.
  • Encourage your school to bring in additional support from Life Education or other expert providers in this space.
  • Explore our bCyberwise module and resources.
  • Direct your children to online resources such as on the e-safety website commissioner, bullyingnoway.gov.au or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • About the author

    Kellie Sloane

    CEO Life Education NSW