‘They tag me in horrible photos and places.” “I get mean messages and threats.” “They spread rumours about me.” “It never stops.”
These are just some of the things volunteer counsellors at ChildLine Scotland hear day in day out from children and young people who are being cyber bullied.
The internet, social networking sites and mobile phones are now part and parcel of young people’s everyday lives. They are the first generation which has never known a world without them. The benefits are huge, both socially and educationally, but so too are the dangers.
Today 24-hour internet access, developments in mobile phone technology and increased use of social networking sites means cyber bullying is on the rise.
“Sexting” has now evolved into an extreme form of cyber bullying among teenagers, as schoolgirls face pressure to provide sexually explicit pictures of themselves.
The digital industry, schools, parents, and other adults working or volunteering with children can all take opportunities to talk to children about staying safe online.
Parents can help by:
• Placing the computer where the whole family can use it rather than out of sight in the bedroom
• Talking with their children about what kind of sites are safe
• Telling their child to keep their identity private online and never to email or text photographs
• Making sure their child is as cautious of strangers online as they would be in the real world and telling them to remember people online may not be who they say they are
• Explaining to children that they should never meet up with someone online without telling an adult they trust
• Telling their child never to respond to nasty or rude messages and telling them if they are suspicious or uncomfortable about conversations to stop there and then and tell an adult
• Ensuring they do not open any email attachments or text messages if they do not know the sender in case they contain nasty images
If you are a child and want advice on how to keep yourself safe online, you can speak to ChildLine 24 hours a day, 365 days a year via the phone on 0800 1111 or directly through www.childline.org.uk.
There’s also great advice for parents who want to keep their children safe online at www.thinkuknow.co.uk/parents.
Elaine Chalmers is area manager at ChildLine Scotland