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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Beating real-world and cyber bullies at their own game

Dubai school is deploying the same technology bullies use – only to stamp out bad behaviour

Cyberbullying can ruin children's self-esteem and cause deep psychological problems in later life. Photothek
Cyberbullying can ruin children's self-esteem and cause deep psychological problems in later life. Photothek

For some, childhood is a carefree and golden period. For the less fortunate, it can be a difficult time, filled with existential angst and social awkwardness.

These issues increase enormously when such children become the target of bullies.

For previous generations, bullying was often limited to the playground and the school bus, with home offering a safe haven.

Today, campaigns of harassment can follow vulnerable young people all the way back to their bedrooms via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, ruining self-esteem and affecting their mental health.

Back in the early days of the world wide web, people imagined cyberspace in utopian terms – a borderless meeting place for diverse communities, where ideas could be exchanged and connections made, built on foundations of co-operation and mutual respect.

The reality of our increasingly networked world is, sadly, not quite so positive.

Take for example, the tidal wave of fake news, online scams and unsavoury content that even the most casual internet user has to contend with on a daily basis.

Perhaps the worst manifestation of this dark side of the digital world is the growing epidemic of cyberbullying among children.

In a recent interview, Dubai-based child psychologist Dr Haneen Jarrar told The National that she has encountered children as young as six who have fallen victim to this vicious phenomenon.

Parents have voiced their concerns about this pernicious use of technology for several years, but a child’s online life is notoriously difficult to police.

Fortunately, the Jumeirah Baccalaureate School in Dubai has launched an initiative that it hopes will beat the bullies at their own game.

Via an app, children will be able to report all instances of victimisation – both in the real and virtual world – to a real-life, resident counsellor.

The app will allow school staff to build a record of reports and to recognise emerging trends in behaviour. Most importantly, the whole system is anonymous, which will remove the stigma of victimhood and encourage children to reach out for help.

It is just a shame that those who endure the predations of bullies should feel the need to remain anonymous. It should, after all, be the perpetrators who are ashamed to show their faces.