The menace of cyberbullies threatens the mindset of youth



Cyber Bullying – a menace we need to address by empowering our youth (INL Image)

Praneeta Mahajan
Hamilton, March 22, 2023

Cyberbullying is an insidious problem in New Zealand that has been on the rise in recent years. With the proliferation of social media and online communication platforms, bullies have a much wider reach than ever before, and their victims can feel helpless and isolated. According to a survey conducted by Netsafe, New Zealand’s independent online safety agency, almost a third of young people between the ages of 14 and 17 reported being cyberbullied at some point.

One of the most concerning aspects of cyberbullying is that it can take many different forms, from targeted harassment on social media to the spreading of rumours and embarrassing content. Some bullies use fake accounts to attack their victims anonymously, while others may use the internet to organize coordinated attacks with multiple participants.

The Impact

Whatever the method, the impact on the victim of cyberbullying can be devastating.

The effects can range from mild to severe, depending on the individual and the situation. Victims may experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues. They may also suffer from physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches, due to the stress of the situation. In some cases, cyberbullying can even lead to suicide, as was tragically demonstrated in the case of Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl from England who took her own life after being bullied online.

In New Zealand, there are laws in place to protect people from cyberbullying. The Harmful Digital Communications Act, which was passed in 2015, makes it illegal to send messages or post material online that is grossly offensive, indecent, or menacing. It also provides a mechanism for victims to seek help and redress by filing a complaint with Netsafe, which can then work with the perpetrator to remove the offending content and prevent further harm.

However, despite these legal protections, cyberbullying remains a pervasive problem in New Zealand. According to Netsafe’s survey, only 41% of young people who were cyberbullied reported the incident to someone in authority, and just 25% felt that their complaint was taken seriously. This suggests that there is still a great deal of work to be done to raise awareness of the issue and provide effective support for victims.

What is cyberbullying (INL Image)

What can be done

One potential solution is to focus on prevention rather than just punishment. Educating young people about the dangers of cyberbullying and how to recognize and respond to it can help to reduce the incidence of this behaviour. This could include teaching children and teenagers about empathy, kindness, and respect, as well as providing them with practical tips for staying safe online.

Another important step is to provide support for victims of cyberbullying. This could involve counselling, therapy, or other forms of mental health support, as well as practical advice for dealing with the aftermath of the incident. Victims should also be encouraged to report the bullying to Netsafe or another appropriate authority, as this can help to stop the behaviour and prevent it from happening to others.

Finally, it is important to hold bullies accountable for their actions. While punishment should not be the only focus, it is important to send a clear message that cyberbullying is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. This could involve criminal charges in cases of serious harassment or abuse, as well as social consequences such as school suspension or loss of privileges.

Partnerships and Support channels

New Zealand Police has also been working in partnership with several schools around the country through their ‘Kia Kaha’ program. Kia Kaha enables students to develop strategies for respectful relationships where bullying behaviours are not tolerated.

Through various resources, education kits, interventions and discussions, various individual schools, in partnership with the Police, have addressed problems that impact student achievement and student safety, using an explicit whole-school approach to achieve measurable goals, and by focusing on prevention, support, and accountability, we can work together to create a safer and more positive online environment for everyone.

If you or someone you know is being bullied online, it is important to seek help and support as soon as possible. Remember, you are not alone, and some people can help.

Contacts that can help against bullying and cyberbullying

Youthline

Need support or want to talk? Contact Youthline.
Helpline 0800 37 66 33
Free Text 234
E talk@youthline.co.nz
W www.youthline.co.nz

Lifeline

Lifeline’s telephone counselling service provides 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week counselling and support. Calls are confidential and free and you will speak to a trained Lifeline counsellor.
P 0800 54 33 54
Free Text 4357
W www.youthline.co.nz

Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

Information for parents on creating a safe online learning and social environment for their children at home.
W www.netsafe.org.nz

Netsafe Cyberbullying

Information and advice about cyberbullying for young people, parents and teachers.
W www.netsafe.org.nz

0800 What’s Up

0800 What’s Up is a free, nationally-available helpline and online chat service for children and teenagers. It’s run by qualified counsellors and is open 365 days a year.
P: 0800 942 8787
Wwww.whatsup.co.nz

Indian Newslink will present a Follow-Up story shortly on how families, parents and caregivers can support teenagers in dealing with such incidents and empower them to tackle the social menace of cyberbullying.

Praneeta Mahajan is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Hamilton.

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