Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi

Citizenship and Partners in Learning Program Manager, Microsoft West, East, Central Africa and Indian Ocean Islands

For all the benefits that smartphones, computers and the web have to offer – especially for young people who have embraced digital technology and gained access to its benefits – there will always be those who misuse the technology.

Just like bullying in person, online bullying (also known as cyberbullying) is willful and is defined as repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices to others.   Using technology to bully others potentially opens the door to 24-hour abuse often in the privacy of one’s home, perhaps made anonymously and potentially broadcast to a wider audience. Children and youth can use any type of Internet-connected device or services like texting and instant messaging, games, or social media to cyber bully others. Cyberbullies may even disclose their targets’ personal data publically or may create fake accounts, comments or sites posing as their victim to defame, discredit or ridicule them. It is also more difficult to escape from cyberbullies as they have access to their targets’ personal data.

According to a new Microsoft Global Youth Online Behavior Survey released today of 7600 children and youth between the ages of eight and 17, four in 10 have been bullied online. It’s no wonder that (54 percent) of children around the world, worry about becoming a target of online mean and cruel behavior.  Compare that to Egypt where the concern drops to 52 percent, and in Morocco the number of children that worry about being bullied online is 45 percent.

In Egypt, only 27% (compared with a 25 country average of 37%) of the children and youth age 8 – 17 who responded to the survey say they have been subjected to a range of online activities that some may consider to be online bullying or to have adverse effects. In Morocco, however, 40% of the children and youth state that they have been subjected to such activities.

Parents and trusted adults need to get involved.  Often due to the technological generation gap between parents and children, adults are unaware of the harm that is being caused to their children on a daily basis. Globally, less than a third (29%) said parents have talked to them about poor online behavior, and they failed to pinpoint one common step parents took to help address the problem. In Egypt the percentage of respondents who indicate that their parents discuss online risks with them is a mere 12% with 28% indicating that their parents monitor their use of computers. In Morocco on the other hand,  52% of respondents said their parents talk to them about online risks, and 61% stated that their parents monitor their computer usage.

Kids need to know that adults can and will help.  And, parents and educators should make themselves available and offer support.  To assist adults in recognizing and addressing the issue, Microsoft has created several new resources:  an interactive online bullying quiz, our Digital Citizenship in Action Toolkit, and steps to help stop the cycle of online bullying which include:

 

Pay attention

  • Make time to listen. Sit with younger children while they play and explore online. Regularly ask tweens and teens to show you around the websites they visit, where they hang out, who with, and how they talk to each other.
  •  Lead by example. Kids learn from what adults do.
  • Watch for signs of online cruelty. Look for kids getting upset when online or texting, or for a reluctance to go to school. Watch, too, for kids being mean to others online.
  • Make clear that they should never bully anyone.

 

Ask your kids to report bullying. Promise unconditional support. Reassure them that you won’t take away their phone, gaming, or computer privileges because of others’ behavior.

 

Encourage empathy

Ask kids to put themselves in others’ shoes. Encourage them to stand up for those they see being bullied:

  • Be kind. Spend time together. Reassure the friend with supportive phone calls and texts.
  • Set a good example. Don’t forward mean messages, or use insults to defend a friend.
  • Block bullying. Help the friend block bullies or change his or her password.
  • Ask those who are bullying to stop. Ask politely, and only if it feels safe to do so.
  • Tell others. Help the friend report what’s happening to a trusted adult or trained professional. Report the abuse to the website.

Promote kindnessin your community  

  • Advocate for empathy training at school. Help prevent online bullying through social and emotional learning—the process by which we learn to build strong relationships and develop healthy boundaries and self-perceptions.
  • Start a kindness campaign at home, school, or in the neighborhood—as small as one kind deed a day or as broad as a program to challenge a culture of criticism at school.

What to do if a child is involved in online bullying?

  • Get the full story. Listen carefully and take it seriously. It may not be simple: the child or teen may be the target of bullying, or may be bullying someone as well.
  • Together, make a plan. Ask what you can do to help, and make the kid’s answers the basis of the plan.
  • For a kid being bullied: Don’t blame the target of bullying (even if he or she started it). Advise kids not to respond or retaliate. (Do save the material in case authorities need it.) Report bullying to the website or company where the abuse occurred.
  • For a kid bullying someone: Try to understand the source of the bullying behavior. It’s the behavior, not the kid that is at the heart of the conflict. (But, don’t let reasons become excuses.) Discuss how the kid can make amends.
  • Get help. Find counselors or others trained to deal with kids who have been bullied or have bullied others.

Whatever the issue facing children and youth online, Microsoft’s primary piece of guidance stands: parents, trusted adults, teachers, coaches, and counselors need to keep the lines of communication open.         

The full Global Youth Online Behavior Survey report, along with the complete list of individual executive summaries for each country, is available here.