The Internet has opened up a whole new world for children and has helped expand their horizons and improve their knowledge about what’s going on around the world. However, there are several downsides to living in a world with so much Internet access as many people are now being subject to cyber bullying. With a majority of young children nowadays having access to the Internet, they are exposed to the harsh realities which exist on the web, making them vulnerable to online bullying. A recent survey by cyber space information protection expert Symantec reveals that about 18 per cent of children have said that they have been a victim of bullying on the Internet. “The number of cases of online bullying is quite alarming to be honest. These days children as young as 10 are using social networking websites. What’s dangerous about the Internet is that one does not have to be big and strong to bully. People, who are normally timid and fearful in real life can be completely fearless in the virtual world,” shares D Narasimham, a counsellor.
Sailaja, who also teaches students from time to time feel that children take things on social media very seriously, which affects their academic performances. “I strongly feel that parents should monitor the amount of time their kids spend on Facebook. I know it’s hard because there are so many mediums these days to access the net, but children take things written on these sites very seriously and it affects their grades,” she explains.
According to a recent study by the industry body, ASSOCHAM, despite the government’s strict norms to prohibit children under 13 from joining social networking site, nearly 73 per cent of children, aged 8-13 are using Facebook and other social networking sites, which can lead to negative outcomes such as cyber bullying and online sexual abuse.
“There are people who spend most of their time in the virtual world. For various reasons, such people usually struggle to maintain interpersonal human relations in real life. Some of them also have personality deficits, and this can come from social anxiety or a lack of confidence. Usually, if someone who is very quiet in real life is extremely active online, their friends notice it and harass them by stalking them and commenting on their photographs and posts,” says Dr Zia Nadeem, a psychiatrist.
“Some adhere to even more harmful ways of cyber bullying by sending explicit text messages or emails and posting morphed photographs of people. This can lead to several consequences, including the use of alcohol and drugs. Some of them are so bothered by what happens online, that they tend to use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Cyber bullying also affects their performance at schools and shatters their confidence and self-esteem,” he explains.
Agreeing, Dr Jayanti Sundar, another psychiatrist from the city, feels that children lose their sense of identity. “Today itself I had a patient with a similar problem. In the virtual world, you have a relationship with ‘faceless’ people and when they morph pictures, children feel extremely betrayed.”
Dr Sundar feels that it has not only affects their academic performance, but also their personality.
“They lose interest completely in academics, they also lose interest in themselves. Children feel totally betrayed and dejected as a result of cyber bullying,” she adds.
Though most of these websites have strong privacy settings, a lot of people are either unaware of them or don’t update their settings and as a result, fall prey to stalking. “When I initially joined Facebook, the entire public had access to my profile and I had no idea about it. I later realised that I can change my settings so that only my friends could view it, but by then it was too late. A couple of random strangers got my number off Facebook and repeatedly sent me explicit text messages. I had to change my number and deactivate my Facebook account,” says a 22-year-old girl on the condition of anonymity.
With the cases of cyber bullying increasing by the day, it’s time for all of us to sit up and collectively address what is slowly snowballing into a nation-wide crisis.