After recently discovering that my five year old daughter, who is in Year One, was being bullied by two boys in her class, my thoughts started drifting back to the days when the dreaded B word was all-encompassing for me. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, and by the time I left home I’d had over a dozen addresses. I feel this made me an easy target for bullies, and towards the end of my school career, I had suffered badly because of them.
At my very lowest ebb I attempted suicide by taking an overdose of painkillers – a classic cry for help. As fate would have it, shortly after this happened an incident with another bully (my step-father) was the catalyst for me leaving home at 15. I had it rough, there is no denying that, but I grew up in a different era. I didn’t even get my first mobile phone until I was sixteen. I’ve often wondered how much more horrendous things would have been back then had the bullies been able to follow me into my home, and continue their torment online via social media, over email, chat and phone text.
It’s not an over exaggeration to say that the recent Izzy Dix case terrified me to my very core. A beautiful, intelligent 14 year old, who was close to her family, was driven to suicide because she felt she could no longer cope with another day of the suffering inflicted upon her. She was bullied terribly for three years after returning to the UK from Australia, and took her own life just two weeks into the new school year in 2013.
Following this, her mother Gabbi campaigned to have the popular website Ask.fm shut down. Her petition gathered over 140,000 signatures, was taken to Westminster, and resulted in Ask.com buying Ask.fm. Their new CEO made vital changes to the way the site works, has cracked down on bullying and made it an overall safer place to be on. A small victory in the face of such tragedy, but a victory none the less. Izzy’s memorial page on Facebook is full of useful information about how to support someone that is being bullied.
A big part of me hopes that things will have changed by the time my own kids want to go online independently. As innocent as it may seem to a child to set up an Instagram account, or communicate with their friends on Snapchat, us parents know the potential dangers of doing so. According to recent research, top of the list of worries are bullying and grooming. There is much to consider, and I know my hubby and I will need to ensure we are always one step ahead of the game. We’ve still got a few years to work out a strategy, but safety awareness will be high up on the agenda.
We’ll be encouraging them to be completely open and honest about their online usage, but I doubt that’ll be enough. As nice an idea as it might seem to give them full control and trust their decision making, I think that in reality they will need our guidance until they are well into their teen years. I know some parents keep lists of passwords to their kids’ social media accounts, and do random checks to make sure nothing untoward is going on, and we will probably follow this path too. Meanwhile we have to do our very best to ensure that we equip them with the resources they need to cope with this crazy world. A place that can be so cruel and unjust.
The NSPCC website has some brilliant advice on how to combat bullying and cyber bullying, which is well worth checking out.
Is cyber bullying on your radar yet or do you have similar thoughts to the ones swirling around in my head? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.