CYBERBULLYING is a serious issue affecting children and adolescents from primary school through to university.
During 2017 more than 3,000 people aged 5-25 contacted the national counselling service Kids Helpline and in a chilling statistic, 14 per cent were experiencing suicidal thoughts at the time (956 of these callers were cyberbullied).
Yourtown/Kids Helpline’s Tracy Adams said young people experiencing cyberbullying could experience anxiety and depression, feel ashamed, isolated, powerless, scared and humiliated, with the potential for devastating consequences.
“Of young people contacting us about cybersafety, 400 were from children aged between five and 12 with nine per cent of these very young children telling us they were experiencing suicidal thoughts,” Ms Adams said.
Ms Adams said while these statistics were alarming she was thankful children and young people were reaching out to Kids Helpline for help.
“Teaching and encouraging help seeking is exceptionally important. We know that children and young people generally do not disclose to adults that they are experiencing cyberbullying. Research has told us that only 40 per cent of children aged five to nine will tell their parent or carer they are experiencing cyberbullying and this drops off to only 25 per cent for young people 15 years and older.”
Early intervention via education is one of the keys to protecting children and keeping them safe online.
“As a community we need to teach children to not only seek help at a young age but also about how to stay safe online by equipping them with the skills and knowledge to make their use of digital devices and technology first and foremost a positive one,’’ Ms Adams said.
Kids Helpline in partnership with Optus supports the community via a digital education program — Digital Thumbprint is available free to primary schools nationally and last year close to 12,000 children benefited from the program.
“Professional counsellors talk with students and their teachers in group class sessions via digital technology about issues such as digital media literacy, respectful relationships online, online safety and cyberbullying,” Ms Adams said.
A recent survey released by Kids Helpline indicated more than 50 per cent of young people surveyed about cyberbullying had been bullied but also had bullied others.
Kids Helpline’s head of strategy and research John Dalgleish said the survey revealed the line between bully and bullied was blurred.
“Many of the young people engaging in cyberbullying said they did this in an attempt to seek justice for the abuses they had received. This suggests cyberbullying takes place because of breakdowns in peer relationships. It also highlights that education is exceptionally important to give our kids the skills to develop and maintain respectful peer relationships and learn legitimate pathways to achieve meaningful conflict resolution,” he said.
■Kids Helpline is Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for people aged 5-25. Freecall 1800551800 or www.kidshelpline.com.au
Young people can report cyberbullying at www.esafety.gov.au