Cyber-bullying has become so commonplace that more than half of children in Britain accept that it is part of everyday life, a new study says today.
In a further sign of the growing problem surrounding online abuse among young people, a poll carried out by the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that 55 per cent of children were resigned to the fact that cyber-bullying was normal practice.
Nearly 70 per cent of children said they would turn to their parents if they were bullied online – but four in 10 parents are too ignorant to deal with the problem and are unable to take steps such as setting up filters on mobile phones and computers to protect their kids.
Luke Roberts, the national co-ordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, said: “Our research shows that cyber-bullying is an everyday problem for today’s children, but teachers and parents are not always able to provide the advice and support young people need.”
Keith Towler, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said last week that new laws should be brought in to tackle cyber-bullying, underlining the increasing pressure the Government is coming under to introduce specific legislation to address the issue, which continues to claim the lives of children around the world.
In the latest death linked to online abuse, Rebecca Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl in Florida, committed suicide last month after being subjected to a barrage of hateful messages. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said perpetrators of abuse on social-networking sites are not above the law and has urged people to boycott websites that fail to tackle the problem – an approach that is too simplistic, campaigners say.
The study polled 2,200 parents, children and teachers across England ahead of anti-bullying week next month. More than two-thirds of teachers and 40 per cent of young people said cyber-bullying and how to deal with it should be taught as part of the national curriculum in schools. More than four in 10 teachers didn’t know how to respond to the problem and said that nothing was taught in their schools on the issue, the study found.
Mr Roberts told The Independent that education should be aimed at building resilience to the problem among young people and teaching them that past misdemeanours have a greater chance of being made public in a digital age.
“People can use your information in ways that you might not necessarily understand when you did it at the time,” Mr Roberts said. “The solution is better education, not only in the classroom but better training for teachers and support for parents.”
In one of the highest-profile cases this year, 14-year-old Hannah Smith killed herself in August after being abused on the Latvia-based site, which allows users to send questions anonymously to each other.
Mr Roberts said: “Where you have people being anonymous, we are much more capable of being cruel.”
Case study: ‘I felt like I was an outcast’
Khushal Shah, 17, from London. Head of cyber-engagement at the Anti-Bullying Alliance
I have been a victim of cyber-bullying through Facebook. A fake account was made using my name and personal details. Photoshopped pictures of me and rude and abusive comments were posted. Almost my whole year group had added me as a friend. I was shocked and confused. I felt people would be constantly judging me and that I was an outcast.
I talked to my friends and realised it was a fake account with really horrible, personal and abusive comments. I did not have the confidence or courage to tell my parents. Instead a friend and I went to a trusted teacher. They were shocked – it was the first time they had heard about such a thing.
After talking with my teacher, senior members of staff were involved and after several conversations with Facebook, the account was taken down. It was only after the support of friends, teachers and my parents, that I become confident again, regained my self-esteem and could face walking past people in the corridors.
My experience has led me to realize what bullying is.