SERIOUS cyber-bullying against children is on the rise, with reports of name-calling, violent threats, and even revenge porn surging 63 per cent this year, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner revealed yesterday.
Children as young as 10 years old were being targeted by online bullies, the Office revealed in its annual report, with girls and 15-year-olds the largest online targets.
Internet safety experts warned widespread acceptance of mobile phones and social media for primary school children had fuelled the spike, and parents needed to be more vigilant, better educated, and pay greater attention to their children’s behaviour to stem the problem.
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner, which administers the national cyber-bullying complaints scheme, received 305 reports of serious cyber-bullying against children this year, with 16 per cent of complaints involving victims aged 10 and 11-years-old.
Children between the ages of 12 and 16 years were most likely to be targets for online bullies, the report showed, and girls made up 63 per cent of victims.
Most reported behaviour included serious name-calling and threats of violence, but cases also involved fake accounts set up in victims’ names, revenge porn, hacking social media accounts, and unwanted contact.
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the rise in complaints this year had been “exponential,” and the Office had referred more than 1400 children to Kids Helpline and 13 cases to schools.
Despite the influx of reports, Ms Inman Grant said officers had reduced response times from seven hours last year.
“On average, we have been able to respond to a complaint with our first substantive action in under four hours of receipt, even while the cases coming in have been increasingly serious and complex in nature,” she said.
Cyber safety expert and educator Leonie Smith said rising online bullying was being fuelled by young children being given smartphones and social media accounts before they were mature enough to use them sensibly.
“More children are getting access to technology that parents aren’t able to supervise easily,” Ms Smith said.
“At primary schools now just about everyone in year six is on Instagram or Snapchat. That wasn’t the case a few years ago and now it’s become widely acceptable.”
Ms Smith said both social networks offered private messaging that was often used by bullies, and could be used to send “disappearing” abusive messages that were hard to trace.
Schools were doing their best to educate students about bullying, she said, but parents also needed to educate themselves, ensure age-appropriate access to social media, and spend more time talking about acceptable social behaviour with their children.
“In 90 per cent of cases, online bullying is happening out of school grounds, at home and on the way home,” she said.
“Parents need to concentrate on their children’s behaviour and supervising them when they get home.”
Children and adults can report cases of cyber-bullying to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner online.
Top 5 tips for parents to tackle cyber bullying
Password security. Teach your kids that passwords are like the keys to your house and no matter how much they might trust a particular friend — never share them.
Start the conversation early. Talk as early as possible to your children about cyber bullying and cyber safety. Educate yourself first about what the issues are and then have that conversation with your child even before they start interacting online so they know what’s coming.
Bring it out in the open. When your kids are online make sure they are interacting online in a place outside of their bedroom. That way you can have greater access to see what is going on.
Respect. Educate your kids that communicating online is no different to communicating in the “real world” and they should be aware that there is a “real” person on the other end of their communication so treat them how they would if they were standing in the same room.
Be clued in. Be aware to your child’s emotional state and any abnormal behaviour. If their mood has suddenly changed and they are acting out of the ordinary it might be an indicator that something is going on. Keep in close contact with their school and other support services to keep a dialogue on how they are going.