Exposure to the Internet world has many pros and cons. No doubt, the Internet is the storehouse of knowledge as well as entertainment. For many of us, the cyber world has opened up lots of opportunities, it has widened our knowledge base, it has improved our mental skills; for children too, it has expanded their mental horizon. But unfortunately, it also has its downsides. One of the most harmful drawbacks of the Internet or the cyber world is the cyber bullying or online bullying. With more and more children going online to cope up their studies, to play games, to watch movies, with the growing number of social media sites, cyber bullying has become a dangerous activity affecting the children and young minds.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyber bullying means to bully, tease or torment someone through the means of the electronic media and it is affecting the children in the age group of 8 to 18 years. Bullying is quite common in schools/playgrounds when the senior children try to bully the junior ones. But with digital world, this has taken over a larger proportion of creating a negative impact on the young ones’ minds, which makes cyber bullying all the more dangerous. Cyber bullying is done using electronic devices like as computers, tablets, cell phones where the victim is bullied through text messages, emails, rumours sent by emails, through derogatory comments, status updates in social media sites, chats, including discomforting and shameful pictures, videos, creating fake profiles etc.
There is another form of cyber bullying referred as online negative situation in which the victim experiences being approached for sex, online harassment through posting private or sexual content without permission, online stalking or through online pressure to click on a link that displays adult content.
Cyberbullying in India
Cyber bullying is growing at an alarming rate in various countries of the world, including India. According to the security software firm Symantec, Indian children are falling prey to cyber bullying and the number is growing day-by-day. The worst part of this is that most of the parents are not aware of this menace.
According to a survey, ‘Global Youth Online Behaviour Survey’ conducted by Microsoft in 25 countries 2012, it was found that India was in the third position of cyber bullying, affecting 53% children aged between 8 and 17 years. China was at the top of the list (70%) in cyber crime, followed by Singapore (58%). It was also found that only 29% of the respondents could share their online harassment with their parents.
Effects of cyberbullying on children: Warning signs
Any kind of cyber bullying has a negative impact on the psychology of children as well as adults. For the teenagers and the young group, the effects of cyber bullying in extreme cases lead to depression and suicidal tendency. Children may take to alcohol and drugs. Since it is seen in many cases that the children do not share with their parents their problems, it is the responsibility of the parents to keep an eye on the activities of their children so that they get the warning signs of their children being bullied or prevent them from cyber bullying. Some potential warning signs that show that your child is being cyber-bullied are:
- He closes his online account.
- He becomes withdrawn, upset or annoyed after being online
- He suffers from lower self esteem
- He tries to skip school
- His school grades and performance become worse
- He suffers from health problems, irregular sleep patterns and mood swings etc.
Potential signs that your child is a victim of cyber bullying
Your child has the chance of being cyber-bullied if you see the following signs:
- Most of the time he or she is busy texting, gaming or using Facebook and other networking sites
- Many new numbers and contact IDs are seen in his account.
- Is very secretive about his online activities
- Do not discuss on what he is doing with the computer or the phone.
- Quickly closes programmes when you come near.
- Uses the computer or phone late at night.
- Gets upset when he cannot use the computer etc.
How can you prevent your child being cyber-bullied?
- First of all, make your children aware of what cyber bullying is. Tell them about the stories that you have heard or read and how they are harmful to them.
- Ask them whether they have faced similar situations.
- Limit their time spent on the Internet, cell phones and the social networking sites. Preferably, these should be used when you are present at home.
- If possible, make use of parental control software and websites which are designed towards protecting your kids when they are online. The software set time limits, regulates adult websites, and even gives updates on the child’s online activities. There are certain websites which can also help parents to monitor activities on Facebook and other popular social networking sites.
Need for stringent laws
In most developed countries, cyber bullying is a punishable offence. There are strict laws that regulate, restrict and punish cyber offenders most severely. However, in India, as of now, there are no effective laws to combat the problem of cyber bullying and other types of cyber crimes. A law was enforced in February 2013 regarding cyber crime so as to prevent online phishing scams and online frauds.
It is to be noted that cyber bullying danger should not be ignored as it is the young minds who are the worst sufferers. It should be declared as a punishable offence in Indian law with rigorous punishment to the offender. But also cyber bullies need counselling as most of them are themselves youngsters. Thus, to prevent cyber bullying, it should be a combined effort on the part of the law, the government, ministries of information and communication technology and health, including the parents, the offenders and the victims.
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