x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Education can help curb cyberbullying

Communication, not surveillance software, is key to tackling cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem as children spend increasing amounts of time on the internet.

Although there are no official statistics on bullying in the UAE, we know that it happens. Cyberbullying, in particular, is on the rise all over the world.

One of the main problems with online bullying is that it is more difficult to police than those cruelties meted out on the playground. Unfortunately, many children tend to keep cyberbullying from their parents or teachers until it is too late.

As The National reported this week, parents will soon get the chance to stop their children from becoming victims, or perpetrators, of online bullying with the help of XRayData software. The program will alert parents if their children are being attacked, excluded or emotionally abused, or if they are attacking other internet users.

The software's developers say the program is not all about "policing", as Gerard Flynn, an educational consultant, explains: "It's about sentiment too. It doesn't just look for a full-out blatant 'I am going to beat you up' - it works on the theme and the tone of comments."

To be sure, keeping the tone of children's interactions in mind is important. No two children are the same: they have different temperaments, while boundaries of acceptable behaviour shift with each generation.

But surveillance software doesn't provide a complete answer either. While some children might be open to the idea of their parents monitoring their online activities, others will rail against such an invasion of their privacy or would be offended if they felt their parents were somehow "spying" on them and the company they kept.

Successful parenting relies on many qualities, including developing an appropriately calibrated approach to the challenges presented by the modern world and treading a fine line between being a concerned caregiver and an overprotective parent.

Education can help. Parents, as well as teachers, can educate children on how not to fall prey to cyberbullies and what to do if they are subject to intimidation. The effects of any kind of bullying can be dreadful and leave long-lasting scars - only greater communication can fully heal those wounds. Sometimes not even software holds all the answers in the digital age.