“How would you know if your child was being cyberbullied?” That is the chilling question posed by Dean McCoubrey, Founder of MySociaLife, SA’s leading expert on online safety and digital life skills in schools, during this week’s Anti-Bullying Week in South Africa.
Many adults hear the term ‘bullying’ or ‘cyberbullying’ and can easily assume this is the behaviour of immature school cliques. Still, in reality, bullying is driven by power dynamics, fear, insecurity, anxiety or personal exposure to aggressive and dominant behaviour that results in harassment and the invisible erosion of self-esteem.
The impact causes the victim harm and can also extend into repeated behaviours by the perpetrator later in life, directed towards a colleague, employee, spouse, or partner.
McCoubrey explains why that the challenge is not just technological but environmental. South Africa is one of the more prominent cyberbullying nations in some studies. Education departments need to realise the powerful influence of social media and games and use them intelligently, re-directing the use of devices and platforms towards positive outcomes instead of negative ones. It is possible, but we are way behind right now. There's a generational and technological divide.”
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According to Legalwise, South Africa’s CyberCrimes Act “criminalises a variety of cybercrimes. With regards to children, these cybercrimes will also form part of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, which regulates how children will be dealt with when they are accused of committing crimes and what consequences they will face. Imprisonment may be imposed for children between the ages of 10 and 18, but only as a last resort, and for the shortest period possible.”
McCoubrey concludes: “Our best shot lies in education. Suppose we can assume that robust values-driven leadership may not change any time soon. In that case, we only have the opportunity to show the youth the benefits of digital citizenship, empathy, privacy settings, communication in conflict, how to manage cyberbullying, and how to self-regulate. These skills are something every child can call on when an adult may not know what’s happening. It’s their armour.
“There has to be an incentive for them. Every small positive decision - every kind word – can lead to a better path in life, but someone needs to light the way. Ironically, teaching them through social media and popular culture and showing them their choices and the consequences really do work. They can relate to it. Our program has proven to have a real impact on students by acting as that beacon that shows them the fork in the road to make better choices.”