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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Children as young as six falling victim to cyberbullying in UAE, says expert

Schools are having to adapt bullying strategies to tackle dangers posed by social media use

Dr Haneen Jarrar says the popularity of social media among young children offers a new dynamic in terms of tackling bullying. Reem Mohammed / The National
Dr Haneen Jarrar says the popularity of social media among young children offers a new dynamic in terms of tackling bullying. Reem Mohammed / The National

Young children are falling victim to cyberbullying in the UAE - as a growing online community makes it increasingly tough for victims to escape from their troubles.

While everything from teasing to verbal and physical abuse would once be left in the playground and classroom, the popularity of social media platforms means youngsters are still being targeted on their mobile phones and laptops, making it difficult for teachers and parents to monitor.

A child psychologist in Dubai said she has dealt with cyberbullying cases involving children as young as six, while schools are addressing the issue head-on.

Bullying in social media can come in many forms, from setting up fake profiles to mock victims to posting hurtful comments.

"Bullying used to happen in the school and classroom but when you went home, you were safe," said Dr Haneen Jarrar, a child psychologist at Camali Clinic in Dubai.

"Now, with cyberbullying, it doesn’t stop even if you are in your bedroom.

"People have pseudonyms and make fake profiles, so they feel they can write whatever they want. They can send very hurtful messages.

"Children as young as six are facing cyberbullying in UAE. Very young children have electronic devices and they look at Youtube videos and it becomes a norm that children are being mocked.

"It starts very young. I have seen cases of children committing suicide and being depressed all because of bullying.

"If a child is gaming, they can be bullied for not playing well or told 'we don’t want you in our group'."

She said bullying can have a major impact on the often brittle confidence of children.

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"This age is critical as you’re developing your self confidence and self-esteem. People can start thinking 'I’m not pretty enough' or 'I’m not good enough'."

Nicholas Washbrook, assistant principal of pastoral welfare and standards at Al Yasmina Academy in Abu Dhabi, said cyberbullying is a significant issue.

"Pupils may post something online but they wouldn’t say the same thing to their peer's face," he said.

He said cyberbullying provides a unique set of challenges.

"This is because social media is so powerful now and is part of everyday life.

"There are fake Instagram, Facebook and snapchat accounts being set up.

"We are educating our pupils but there is so much more work to be done on that."

He believes many children are oblivious to the impact of what they post and believes schools need to ensure pupils are aware of what they are doing outside of school and how it can impact on their lives.

Jonathan Miller, the physical education teacher at Dunecrest American School, said that cyberbullying is a massive issue.

"There are so many avenues where children can reach each other. When you send texts, words can be misconstrued. It just steamrolls from there," he said.

He said children can take to each others Facebook accounts to post abuse, which is then viewed by other people.

He gave an example of two pupils, one of whom has failed a test.

"One child can write on the other's Facebook page 'Its too bad you failed in the exam. If you were smarter you might have passed.' People have feelings and they get hurt," he said.

The internet does not forget, and pupils need to be reminded of this, believes the educator.

"What you're putting down may not be an issue now, but in 10 years time, it might become an issue," he said.