** Holly Grogan was 15 years old. She died in September 2009 after she jumped 30 feet from a road bridge onto a busy dual carriageway and was hit by passing traffic. She had endured a torrent of abuse posted on her Facebook page. Friends said that she had been a victim of cyber-bullying. **
We know from research that bullying puts the emotional wellbeing and educational achievement of pupils at risk and has a significant and lasting negative impact upon children’s lives. In addition it impacts on truancy, exclusions, participation in further or higher education and the incidence of self-harm and suicide. The invasion of domestic spaces by cyberbullying leading to the lack of a safe haven may increase the negative social, psychological and emotional consequences for victims.
One of the key messages to come out of recent work and discussions with children and young people is the lack of life experience to deal with these issues on an emotional, psychological and social level.
With this in mind a new approach is needed to educate and empower children and young people. What kinds of help and advice do we need to make available to them? Older safety messages such as ‘never give out your personal details online’ are largely ineffective when dealing with peer groups and friends. This is because the basis of cyberbullying is the manipulation of personal information by peer groups and friends. For example:
Case study 1: A boy of 17 who fell out with his girlfriend of 14 manipulated a pornographic image of a woman so that the head was of his girlfriend. He then posted this on a sex site with all the real contact details of his ex-girlfriend. The family were inundated with calls from men trying to buy sex with the girl.
Case study 2: A young boy of 12 whose mother was seriously ill with cancer. A boy from his form group created a website saying he hoped that the boy’s mother would die.
Case study 3: A 15-year-old girl discovered an entire website had been created to insult and threaten her by members of her year group. The site contained abuse concerning her weight and even had a date for her ‘death’.
The lesson here is that we need to educate children and young people to anticipate, recognise and deal with risks and problems as and when they arise. Children and young people will continue to give out their personal details so they need to be taught more about the management of personal information, both their own and other people’s. More importantly they must be encouraged to become emotionally resilient in all areas of their daily lives. This is not an easy task, and of course we are dealing with these issues in an era when bullying is sometimes trivialised by the media. For example in the Big Brother Shilpa Sheti case, when programme makers denied a racial motive saying it was a simple case of bullying.
Cyberbullying is not 'simple', it is life-threatening