Schools, parents and children in Melbourne and across the country are struggling to deal with the effects of cyber bullying.
In recent years videos of schoolyard fistfights captured on mobile phones and posted online have shocked the nation; now attention has turned to gossip pages posted by students on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Serious allegations about students posted on Facebook by cyber bullies have left victims from schools in Ivanhoe and Heidelberg needing counselling. The gossip is reportedly sent to the page’s creator by other students and is then anonymously posted on the site, one of which reportedly had 2300 members.
Instances of these sites are spreading in Melbourne, with specific gossip pages cropping up for students in Glenferrie, Dandenong, Caulfield, Geelong and Essendon.
Experts believe that technology is taking schoolyard bullying to new heights. The key characteristics of social networking sites — accessibility, anonymity and public reach — make bullying easier and the consequences even more harmful and damaging for victims.
In 2010, psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg stated that while specific cyber bullying laws should be introduced, the more immediate problem was making sure that children were equipped with good “cyber citizenship” skills to deal with the situation.
According to Carr-Gregg, "many young people hide behind a keyboard and there is this phenomenon of digital Dutch courage, where kids will say and do things online that they'd never do in real life".
Teachers feel powerless to stop bullying that doesn’t occur in the classroom, leaving many experts calling for parents to take responsibility for educating their children about appropriate online interaction and supervising their internet use.
While cyber bullying occurs mostly among teens, there are fears that it will spread to younger children. Facebook — which currently does not allow children under the age of 13 to use the site — recently unveiled plans to provide access to younger children, justifying it as a study tool.
Six steps to protect your child from cyber bullying:
Click here for an explanation of each of the steps.