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Cyberbullying on the rise under the shadow of Covid-19 – here’s what to do

Fifty-four percent of South African parents know of a child experiencing cyberbullying. (2018 Global Advisor Cyberbullying Study)

  • International Stand up to Bullying Day serves as an opportunity to take stock of cyberbullying, and how it’s affecting your children. 
  • The threat of being cyberbullied has now increased given the unprecedented rise in screen time during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Fifty-four percent of South African parents know of a child experiencing cyberbullying

Friday marks International Stand up to Bullying Day, a semi-annual event that encourages people to take a visible, public stance against bullying. It also serves as an opportunity to take stock of cyberbullying and how it’s affecting your children.  

READ | 25% of SA parents say their child has been a victim of cyberbullying

South Africa has a high prevalence of cyberbullying, based on a majority (54%) of South African parents who know of a child in their community who has been the victim of cyberbullying. 

“The threat of being cyberbullied has now increased given the unprecedented rise in screen time during the coronavirus pandemic. While many social media platforms are taking their policies seriously when it comes to reducing cyberbullying, children remain at risk and more still needs to be done,” said Casey Rousseau from 1st for Women Insurance, who launched South Africa’s first cyberbullying insurance policy in 2018.

“Now is the time for parents to be proactive in speaking to their children about online safety and cyberbullying.” 

Cyber safety expert,  founder of SaveTNet Cyber Safety and author of Raising a SCREEN SAVVY child, Rianette Leibowitz, shares her advice on what parents need to consider. 

“There are different types of cyberbullying and it is a process of using the internet and digital platforms to intentionally embarrass or hurt someone. To help them deal with this, children need cyber-savvy parents. You can join groups on social media, attend seminars and also see what educational sessions your children’s schools might be offering,” she advises. 

Leibowitz offers these tips:

  • Tell them what cyberbullying is, what the signs are and how to recognise it.
  • Help them to identify and articulate this in their own language.
  • Check out the privacy settings, terms and conditions and usage rights of the platforms your children are on. 
  • Adhere to age restrictions specified by the platforms.
  • Use parental control apps and set up a social media or internet usage agreement with your children so that you are both on the same page of what is acceptable or unacceptable online behaviour. 
  • Be interested and involved in your child’s online world and have regular conversations about the friends they meet, the games they play and the risks involved.
  • Understand that even if an account is set to private, and other users cannot see your children, they are still being exposed to the content.
  • Guide them to make informed and good decisions when it comes to the content they consume. 

“While we cannot always control the internet and social media usage of our children, we have to be realistic that they are susceptible to being bullied. It is important then that we, as parents, equip both them and ourselves as best as possible to deal with this issue,” says Rousseau.

“Since we launched our cyberbullying product we have seen a positive uptake and feel that this is at least one way 1st for Women can help parents with the help they need.” 

South Africa has a hotline for reporting online child sexual abuse and at the Internet Watch Foundation. Childline South Africa also offers counselling and support to children who need to reach out on 08000 55 555. 

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