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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Calls for effective policies to tackle UAE’s ‘significant’ cyberbullying problem

Schools, parents and society in general need to do more to tackle the issue through greater awareness and effective policies, Dr Nayla Daou said.
Dr Nayla Daou discusses ways to deal with bullying with students at Monday’s anti-bullying conference. Anna Nielsen for The National
Dr Nayla Daou discusses ways to deal with bullying with students at Monday’s anti-bullying conference. Anna Nielsen for The National

DUBAI // Cyberbullying has become a “significant” issue for schoolchildren and far more prevalent than adults realise, experts warned on Monday.

Parents, schools and society in general need to do more to tackle the dangers with greater awareness and effective policies, Dr Nayla Daou, a clinical psychologist and founder of the ClearMinds Centre for Emotional Health in Dubai, said at an anti-bullying conference at Raffles World Academy.

“When children are online they are at a greater risk of becoming the victims of bullying due to its anonymous nature,” she said. “In my opinion, it is much more prevalent than the normal forms of bullying we are aware of.” Bullying can range from rude and insulting messages to threats to life, she said.

Studies into the issue in the UAE in 2013 and 2015 found that more than 60 per cent of pupils were aware of someone who was a victim. And 50 per cent said they had been victims of cyberbullying, Dr Daou said.

“Children are interacting with technology almost all the time and, as a result, the bullying can take place anywhere,” she said.

“Unlike, say, playground bullying, where children can go home to a safe place, victims of cyberbullying have no safe place because they can be attacked at any time. Children can feel helpless and, as a result, their behaviour changes so they become more withdrawn and isolated.”

However, many schools are neglecting the issue and do not have effective anti-bullying policies in place, she said.

Parents also need to be more aware so that they can look out for signs of bullying. “They should talk to their children and monitor what they do online because most cyberbullying happens after school,” Dr Daou said.

Schools can educating teachers, parents and pupils, build awareness, and put effective zero-tolerance policies in place. “The school should be a place where a child feels safe in telling a trusted adult they have been bullied,” said Dr Daou.

People are so poorly informed on the issue that most do not even know that cyberbullying is a criminal offence, she said.

A survey by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority in Dubai, which questioned 4,391 pupils aged 12 to 16 in 31 middle schools in the emirate, found 34 per cent felt “sad and hopeless” at school. A number of factors could be behind the findings – including bullying.

Zaeem Moti, 17, from South Africa, is president of the Anti-Bullying Committee at Raffles World Academy, which organised the conference.

The pupil-run committee organises an anti-bullying week each year and shares the expertise it has built up since it was set up in 2011 with other schools. “When someone is bullied we try to bring the victim and the person doing the bullying together so that they can talk about why it happened,” Zaeem said.

“The aim is to make people happier so that they don’t engage in bullying. Cyberbullying is a big problem and the best way to tackle it is to first raise awareness of it. Educating more people about the problem and provide an environment where victims feel safe about coming forward is crucial.”

Tamuris Ismayilzade, 16, from Azerbaijan, event coordinator on the anti-bullying committee, said: “Bullying is like a disease and the more information you have about its causes and effects on children, the more effectively you can deal with it.”

Poonam Bhojani, chief executive of Innoventures Education, which runs Raffles World Academy, said: “Bullying is an issue that affects us all – students, teachers and parents – and more needs to be done to combat it.

“We are happy to welcome a number of other schools to participate in the conference, and hope it equips students with the tools necessary to prevent bullying and protect themselves.”

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nhanif@thenational.ae