Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
4 minute read
17 Nov 2021
6:11 pm

Cyberbullying – What schools and parents should be doing

Renate Engelbrecht

Experts say it’s unlikely that South Africans will go back to their ‘old ways’ of doing things after experiencing how effective online life can be, with he education system standing first in line. But, what effect will this have on things like cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying. Image: iStock

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, 54% of South African parents were aware of a child experiencing cyberbullying and according to experts, these numbers will only escalate as a result of the huge push to digital mediums brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown.

Online schools have been popping up all across the country, and one could only hope that they have systems in place to empower students in navigating this tumultuous digital world while encouraging digital kindness.

Education Psychologist from Connectable Life, Fatima Badat and Jackie Cook, COO of one of Africa’s leading online schools, Teneo agree that it is important to develop responsible online citizens in South Africa.

There will always be consequences

Badat says that it is really important that the youth understand that their future prospects can be affected by how they behave online.

“Recruiters and admissions clerks know that what you post online lives forever, and often do a digital audit of potential candidates.”

A recent CCMA court ruling stated that an employer was allowed to dismiss an employee who made a racist comment on his personal Facebook page, even outside of working hours, which goes to show that students and employees are viewed as extensions of their respective institutions.

South Africa’s Cybercrimes Act 19 of 2020 has recently been finalised, which is already regarded as a big milestone for online harassment as victims will soon be able to rely on criminal and civil law remedies to protect themselves from cyberbullying. Children can also still face the consequences of their cybercrimes as part of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, which regulates how children are dealt with when accused and what consequences they face.

Cook says that all South African schools should review their bullying and harassment policies to include online and cyberbullying in its various forms.

“Online schools should have comprehensive policies and methodologies in place that ensure that students, teachers and parents are able to confront this issue as it arises.”

Digital bullies
Digital bullies. Image: iStock

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The damage from cyberbullying

Badat says that cyberbullying can be even more detrimental to children than traditional bullying as the attacks occur 24/7 via various different channels and the bullies are also often able to hide their identities through fake accounts.

Paranoia, fear and depression and increased anxiety are but a few of the challenges bullied children face. These can all cripple a child’s academic performance, personal relationships and even communication with parents and teachers.

According to Badat, young people tend to be unaware of the psychological damage that bullying can cause. “Since there are seldom consequences to their cyberbullying, they see no reason to stop,” she adds.

“They also fail to appreciate that any information, whether visual or verbal, once posted online, can never truly be erased – it becomes a permanent record, which can also rebound with significantly negative consequences for themselves.”

Often, both the victim and the bully need psychological intervention or counselling.

Schools need to step up

It is of utmost importance that children should be conditioned from an early age to know the consequences of their online behaviour and to understand what their options are when dealing with cyberbullying and online harassment. They must also learn the ways to identify fake news and verify information.

Cook says that the main goal of any school should be to develop ethical, global citizens who have been responsibly integrated into and are able to navigate the rapidly evolving digital universe. “The pivotal ingredient to driving digital literacy in students should therefore be included in the various online curricula.”

Cyberbullying is escalating
Cyberbullying is escalating. Image: iStock

What can schools do?

According to Cook, the lines often become blurred when harassment happens via unofficial channels like social media, where schools have no jurisdiction. Students are still encouraged to come forward to teachers if they require assistance and teachers are comforted in knowing that they have adequately equipped each student with the knowledge, self-confidence and responsibility to request assistance in solving the issue of cyberbullying. She says that one of the advantages of live online classes is that the interactions between teachers and classmates allow for more ‘off the cuff’ conversations on the topic and that students and teachers develop meaningful relationships in comparison with recorded and less interactive online classes.

What can parents do about cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is something that shouldn’t be tolerated in schools, or anywhere else for that matter. But, it’s easier said than done, which is why parents need to have open conversations with their children about what constitutes cyberbullying and harassment, checking in on their kids on a regular basis.

Younger children’s parents are encouraged to track social media channel use and monitor their state of mind post-use – any instant change in behaviour could be a red flag.