Group chat name: «Everyone against Jannis»
Exclude, marginalise, ridicule: In contrast to its offline counterpart, cyberbullying doesn't end when school does. It is often subtle and starts with the child's first mobile phone. How parents can protect their children.
A father consulting his son's phone is appalled to discover a new chat group called «Everyone against Jannis». That's the name of his son. Sharmila Egger works as a psychologist at the Zischtig association, which works to teach media use to children and adolescents. She often speaks to parents like Jannis' father, who simply don't know what to do. She says, «Bullying is targeted victimisation, teasing or denigration over a longer period.» The borderline between joking and bullying is fluid.
The insidious thing about cyberbullying is that it doesn't stop when school does because it happens online. The exclusion and ridicule can take place on WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat or other apps. But even teaching-related platforms like MS Teams are affected. So too are gaming platforms. «There's been an incredible increase in chatting between children,» Egger says. «And therefore also the issue of cyberbullying.» It starts when a child gets their first mobile phone or tablet, in other words sometimes as early as third grade.
Are there any warning signs?
Cyberbullying is often subtle. As a result, even parents who follow their children's chats may not notice what's happening for some time. Harassed children are often embarrassed to report it. However, parents should take note if their child's behaviour changes: Are they often feeling down? Do they frequently complain about headaches or stomach aches? Have they lost their appetite? Have they stopped going out? Or have they suddenly lost interest in going online?
How should parents react if their child falls victim to cyberbullying?
«The important thing is that the parents keep a cool head and don't lose their temper,» the psychologist says. That's because children feel guilty and don't want to be more of a burden to their parents. It's better to say, «Thank you for confiding in us. We'll deal with it.» Because most cases are related to school, teaching staff should also be involved. «Parents must remain firm and insist that things change,» Egger advises. «The class community is always the key.» Specialist bodies like Pro Juventute and cantonal youth counselling services can also help.
What should parents avoid at all costs?
Mothers and fathers should refrain from saying things like «You must defend yourself!» or making similar statements. That's because children then think they have to solve the problem themselves or are doing something wrong. Nor should the parents of the alleged perpetrator be called on the phone. «That just escalates the matter,» Eggers says.
More media skills
The association zischtig.ch promotes healthier and safer use of digital media. It works with schools and runs events for parents as well as workshops and continuing training courses on topics like cyberbullying. Zischtig.ch can help with enquiries about gaming and data protection. Zischtig also offers a card game on the topic of online addiction, a project that the Migros Culture Percentage helped implement.
What's the best preventative measure for primary schoolchildren?
«Parents are the most important element,» Sharmilla Eggers says. Mothers and fathers should keep an eye on chats by primary schoolchildren. And one thing should be clear when giving children their first mobile phone: «It's your phone, but we parents must be able to know what you do with it.»
It's harder for parents to keep track of what adolescents are doing, especially on apps like Snapchat, which don't automatically save posts. What's more, smartphones are increasingly becoming part of a child's private life. Nevertheless, parents should remain on the ball by looking at the employed apps once a week together with their teenage son or daughter. «However, this must be announced,» Egger advises, so that children have time to clean up their device. After all, she says, parents will still get to see enough. The important thing is that the smartphone always remains in the adolescent's hands. «If parents are interested in what their offspring are doing online, it makes children feel good,» the psychologist says. «They know that their parents care.»
What general rules are there regarding the use of social media?
Parents should be aware that escalation is normal in chats at the beginning. «Children must learn this first,» Egger explains. «Offline, alpha personalities assert themselves over shyer individuals. The same thing happens online.» There are also advantages to the fact that children are engaging in social media at an ever-younger age: «That way, they learn how to deal with it much earlier - at a time when parents are still keeping a close eye on them.» Tips on how to promote child safety online are available at Famigros. You'll also find out how teenagers can protect their online data better.
Photos: Getty Images
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