The New School Bully

In the movie ‘Hackers’ (1995), a teacher writes on the blackboard and speaks out loud, “Of all the things I've lost, I miss my mind the most.” In a later scene, one of her students remarks, “This is our world now. The world of the electron and the switch; the beauty of the baud. We exist without nationality, skin colour, or religious bias. You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it's for our own good, yet we're the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto." Huh? Right? Manifesto? "You may stop me, but you can't stop us all."

A case of art imitating life, or vice-versa. Almost two decades later, the adage where fire is a good servant, but a bad master rings true also of the use (and abuse) of technology as we embrace this ‘new’ conundrum infiltrating every aspect of our daily life – from the bedroom to the boardroom. How much of this, then, has revolutionised the way our children learn (and are taught) and how can we, as parents and educators manage the use of the World Wide Web. The new school bully does not have a face, it seems. Even his digital fingerprint is sometimes elusive.

As one writer aptly notes, where there’s honey, there are bees, and where there’s a playground, there are bullies. The only difference now is that they are transparent, more damaging, gender-neutral and cause long-term psychological and emotional harm. There is even a fine line between perpetrator and victim, a face without a book, for we have unknowingly and unwittingly through our (innocent?) ‘comments’ on social media may have added another nail in the coffin of character assassination. The vicious cycle is perpetuated and the term ‘viral’ takes on an even newer meaning.

Closer to home

sad child in cubboardA study on rates of depression and suicidal thoughts conducted by Dr Lim, Dr Liew and Dr Fung of Woodbridge Hospital in Singapore found that out of the 600 children aged between 6-12 surveyed, 22% had suicidal tendencies (the – 25 September 2012). It would be difficult to link the rate of suicide to cyber-bullying, but it is still interesting to note that a recent survey on the state of cyber-bullying done in the Asia Pacific covering around 12,500 children aged between 8 and 17 years revealed that the highest rates of cyber-bullying were reported in China and Singapore (58%) with India closely following on (53%).

Look at the list below to determine how much and how far are we or our children affected by this ‘new’ scourge.

Ask ourselves these questions:

• Have we created false social media profiles on MySpace or Facebook, etc.?
• Have we sent unwanted and insulting email and text messages?
• Have we tried to enquire about our friends’ passwords?
• Have we posted embarrassing or harmful images online
• Have we posted personal information including real name, address and telephone numbers online, etc.

Of course, the above list is in no way exhaustive because the cyber-bullies are creative and imaginative and continually look for new avenues to achieve their malicious objectives. None the less these ‘activities’ may seem innocuous at first, but the ramifications are far and wide, and its damage long-lasting or even permanent.

A stop-gap?

There is no quick-fix solution, stopping short of ceasing all on-line activities and confiscating all electronic gadgets and putting them into cold storage. So how then, can we combat and engage the ‘enemy’ when we can’t even see it in the first place? While we do not want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, it is essential that monitoring and moderation take precedence over everything else. Easier said than done, I know.

asian family readingThere are some anti cyber-bullying laws in place by the National Crime Prevention Council. Some need to learn the hard way and have their fingers burnt, but prudence is key in policing and administering such consequences. Parents need to ‘bite the bullet’ and call a time-out, even among themselves when it comes to communicating with our children on a daily basis. ‘Facetime’ must not just be an ‘app’ on the computer, but a face-to-face encounter with a real person. It is even alarming to read and experience how even two year-olds are given an iPad to ‘keep them quiet’. A cancer starts with a single cell. Our tech-savvy generation learn by leaps and bounds and of course many may argue that the devil’s greatest invention is technology.

The best solutions are unified solutions that enable access control to certain websites, monitor email usage, block offensive content from being uploaded onto websites and help you identify gaps through which our children are trying to bypass system measures.