I will start this column with a shameless confession… I am so relieved that apart from my last child, I escaped raising children in the era of an 'access-for-all' handheld uncensured world.
Teaching in an 11-18 year olds’ school, I have been very aware of how smartphones and the array of apps available to them have impacted their lives.
I remember an incident in the early 2010s that saw the arrival of sexting in a 13 year olds' class.
As educators, we had to catch up with this… We had to understand how boys, that we had seen emerge from primary school only a couple of years before, were now having access to porn and disgraceful pictures of not-much-older girls. It was shocking.
Blazing through the UK a decade ago, we reached a (then) maximum level of indecency and compromission, when apps were developed that allowed young people to bully each other from their keyboard, in the secrecy of their homes.
Furthermore, some awful, leading and damning (supposed) questions were asked of young people who the maturity did not have to deal with the power in their hands, neither the hurt they experienced.
In 2014, a young girl committed suicide in Leicestershire. Tragically, this 14 year old took her own life after being continuously barraged with abuse; her wall was flooded with messages telling her to kill herself, drink bleach, harm herself and that she was worthless, ugly, stupid, awful – it also turned out that most of these came from her own IP address – did that make it right? How was she driven to self-harm in the form of self-online-bullying?
You may think we have all 'grown up a bit' since then? Do you?
A flurry of apps have been created since for teens to bully and troll each other while we trustfully sit at home watching TV and they are quietly 'chatting to friends' in their rooms.
The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, reported on a survey that took place in an acute inpatient psychiatric unit.
They observed 'Cyberbullying and Its Relationship to Current Symptoms and History of Early Life Trauma: A Study of Adolescents'.
Of a targeted cohort sample 20 per cent of participants (10/50) had been 'cyberbullied'.
They regularly accessed social media and engaged in internet-based communication, usually on a daily basis or more frequently in at least one social media activity.
Those who had been bullied endorsed significantly higher scores on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anger among other psychological factors.
Bullying is a factor between children that traces back to history.
Specific examples as far back as Biblical days include Cain and Abel, the way that Joseph was treated by his brothers, David and Goliath, and more…
So nothing new in the act, but the mode, the vessel of transmission that no adult has supervision over, yes. That is new, and we have no control over it.
One of my children was targeted by relentless bullying in the late 1990s – as useless as the school staff was at that time to deal with it, I could at least discuss this with them.
Thankfully, protocols now in place in schools ensure that educators take school-based bullying very seriously, at all times.
But online? Who do you go to? How do you know what takes place? Unless your child opens up to you, you have zero visibility.
The signs that a child is the target for online or cyberbullying are multiple; they can appear nervous or scared about going to school or outside, texting or using social media.
A little difficult to spot as teenagers are reputedly moody: another listed sign is being upset or frustrated after going online or gaming.
A very important point I make is this – they may, or indeed will be unwilling to discuss or share information about their online accounts and activity; however, I ask: who pays the bill? And why do we rely on young people to make the right decisions in a world we don’t even know the realms of?
Would you physically send them down dark alleys of a crime-ridden patch at night on their own with no advice or help?
This is the same: they are alone, in a forest of good and bad, and very bad! Alone.
At a next level of undetected cyberbullying, one could witness unexplained weight loss or weight gain, headaches, stomach aches, or trouble eating, sleeping at night or sleepy during the day, loss of interest in favourite activities.
Your child could suddenly seem depressed or anti-social, withdrawn from close friends and family, making passing statements about suicide or self-harm.
You are not alone in this, as long as you realise it, and accept responsibility for your child’s navigation of the internet as you do for the rest of the physical world.
Know, understand, guide, set boundaries, that is our job, as parents, guardians and educators, be the adults, even if it means we have to play catch-up with technology.
Indeed, here is an example of very good local resources for you, as a parent, to seek; firstly, you can visit www.torbaysafeguarding.org.uk/parents/online-safety/ where a collection of links and info will assist you.
The second option is through the Torbay Council website, the FIS directory home, bullying: advice for parents. There is an infinite amount of resources in national outfits such as Young Minds, ThinkUKnow or Childline.
Please remember the metaphor of the dark alley at night… Would you let them loose?
They will not like you involving yourself more, but we, parents are not here to be our teens’ friends, are we?
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