FutureFive NZ - Use experience, not apps to deal with cyberbullying: expert

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Use experience, not apps to deal with cyberbullying: expert

Few parents today will have grown up in a world in which technologies like smartphones and social networks were mainstream.

That means it’s unlikely many will have dealt with a problem that’s becoming increasingly common in schools around the world: cyberbullying.

However, cyberbullying is as real and as harmful as bullying in the real world, and online safety group NetSafe is taking steps to address the issue.

The organisation this week hosted a talk at the University of Auckland at which research manager Dr John Fenaughty delivered the findings of his recently-completed PhD on the nature of cyberbullying in New Zealand, alongside international expert Dr Simone Van der Hof from Holland.

Both experts agree that while there are tools available to help parents protect their children, apps may not be as effective as education and experience.

Van der Hof compares using restrictive apps which allow parents to monitor their child’s smartphone and internet use to placing fences around pools, instead of teaching children to swim.

"There are all kinds of tools that we can use to monitor what our kids are doing,” Van der Hof says, "and we think these tools are effective, but I can tell you most of them are not very effective.

"We are not actually involved as parents if we use them... It would be better for children to learn lessons by making mistakes.”

Fenaughty agrees, saying it’s more important to imbue children with an understanding of ‘digital citizenship’.

"We need to prepare young people to manage this environment well, because we will never protect them from the challenges.”

Part of the problem is that a significant element of cyberbullying is indirect, such as spreading rumours and social exclusion, which will take place with or without the victim being online.

Parents also need to remember that children have rights too, Van der Hof adds.

"The internet is a great way for children and teens to express themselves, and experiment with their identities. I’d rather have them learn things than control things using technologies.”

NetSafe runs a dedicated cyberbullying website with advice for parents, teachers and young people who are having a problem with cyberbullying. Go here to check it out.

Have you or your child had trouble with cyberbullying? How did you deal with it? Post your comments below.

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