Victim of Cyberbullying
It was reported this week, a 13-year-old Scottish school boy, Ben McKenzie took his own life as a result of being bullied online. MP Paul Masterson described the young man's experience online, as a campaign of cruel online abuse. On the 1st of October 2018, Ben McKenzie was found dead at home. A victim, and one of growing number of young people who have suffered as a direct result, of their interactions with others online. Parents are asking the question, what can we do?
Cyberbullying in the UK
Conservative East Renfrewshire MP Masterton, during the Prime Minister's Questions earlier this week, demanded to know what Westminster was doing to tackle cyberbullying. He voiced his concerns over the tragedy, “No family should be enduring a Christmas without their child due to suicide.” “A few weeks ago Ben McKenzie from Neilston, a pupil from Eastwood High School, took his own life having been the victim of cruel online threats and bullying on social media and to his mobile phone. He was just 13 years old.”
A UK-based charity Beautiful Inside and Out have raised €10,000 in the memory of Ben McKenzie. The charity supports families who have experienced the suicide of a child. The UK have attempted to address Cyberbullying through legislation. However, many do not believe that the government has gone far enough. In a very honest and reality laden message, one family friend posted a message on a crowd funding page created to raise funds for the devastated family of Ben.
“Ben was only 13 years old when his life was cut short as a result of online bullying. Before Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, bullying was physical and in the moment. You went home from school, closed the door and you were safe until the next day. Now, with the aid of the internet and social media there is no escape from bullying. It is constant. Anyone can contact you, from anywhere and at any time – even someone you don't know.”
Cyberbullying in Ireland
Jackie Fox alongside her daughter Nicole Fox Fenton
Unfortunately we also have an issue with cyberbullying in Ireland, which also led to a number of young people taking their own lives. Jackie Fox the mother of 21-year-old Nicole Fox Fenton, lost her daughter in January of this year, after Nicole died in hospital following years of suffering online abuse. Jackie Fox has herself campaigned along with Geraldine Swift and Sarah Mannion Butler, whose children were also victims of online bullying for the government to do more to address the issue.
The mind of a child is like a sponge
The dynamic and scope for children to be targeted online, is expanding all the time. From engaging with children, we have seen how they respond and interact with each other in online gaming. We are concerned about the ways children are learning to interact with each other online. It is possible that what children see and hear online, is priming them. Children are learning how to behave in an aggressive or foul-mouthed way from other older online players. This is perceived by many gamers as just a normal behaviour while in the game.
We frequently see children as young as 6 years of age playing Fortnite and other online multiplayer games. Some of which have an over 18s rating. Most parents don't even realise, how the children are interacting with each other on these platforms.
As a child's mind matures, they are like sponges. Everything is being absorbed. Children end up as a product of their all their experiences. These can be positive or negative. A child constantly exposed to the darker elements of the online world, like cyberbullying, without guidance, this child can accept that behaviour as normal. Then eventually begin to adopt this behaviour as their own. Parents will not see this happening, if there is no online supervision.
Role of Social Media
While Social Media Companies do have a role to play, parents do too. Children are being given access to technology far too young. Devices can be seen as a digital babysitter by some. It's not. The most horrific part of this, is that this doesn't become a problem for a family until it does. By then, it can be too late for some parents to do anything about. Social Media giants like Facebook are often touted as the ones who are at fault. But children use multiple Apps now. They are not just limited to Snapchat or Instagram either. Unless a parent is fully involved with their child's online life, they will not see these other potential threats and dangers young people encounter.
There is no excuse for anyone who decides to target a person online, to such an extent that the person suffers psychological or physical self-harm. Irish legislation under Section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Persons Act 1997, describes “harm” as meaning harm to body or mind and includes pain and unconsciousness. Section 4 of the Act, sets out the offence 4.—(1) A person who intentionally or recklessly causes serious harm to another shall be guilty of an offence.
These laws were written long before the accessibility of the Internet. The frustration and distress parents must feel, at seeing no action being taken, against those who have caused harm to their children, has to be incalculable. All we can hope to do, is continue to highlight the issue of Cyberbullying, with those who have the ability to make the changes in legislation that are so desperately needed.
Advice for Parents
If your child is suffering from online abuse, we would ask that you remove the source of the harm immediately. Screen capture or take a picture of the content. Report the individual or individuals. Do not engage with them yourself. Your child may not want to give up their access to a particular platform, even though they are being targeted on it. But it is important they do withdraw, for their own safety. Especially, if they are unable to block those who are targeting them. There is no reason for a child to be exposed to further trauma, by staying active online.
One life lost to Cyberbullying, is one too many. With Christmas fast approaching many children want to get devices from Santa to access the online world. The harsh reality, is the online world is not an appropriate place for children just yet. Parents should consider the experience of other parents, before permitting their children to venture in to a Social Media environment, children may be ill prepared for.
If you are concerned about your child and Social Media, speak to them. A considerable amount of the online darkness that envelops people, can only empowered by the silence of the victim. If children feel uncomfortable discussing what is bothering them with you, encourage them to speak to another trusted adult, a teacher, a counsellor. They can use one of the services we have listed below.
The Samaritans – Freephone 116 123
Barnardos – 01 4530355
Childline – 1800 666 666
ISPCC – 01 6767960
Teenline – 1800 833 634