Cyberbullies: Think very carefully before you give your kid a cellphone

18 September 2017 - 04:32 By CLAIRE KEETON
Image: iStock

Before they even turn 11, almost one in 10 children is cyberbullied, a major US study has found.

Owning a cellphone significantly increased the risks of cyberbullying among Grade 3s and Grade 4s, said lead author Elizabeth Englander, from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.

"Parents often cite the benefits of giving their child a cellphone but our research suggests that giving young children these devices may have unforeseen risks as well," said the psychology professor.

Cyberbullying is increasing dramatically in South Africa, said Gail Dore, author of the bestselling book Bullyproof.

She defined cyberbullying as using technology to distribute "hurtful, damaging statements and images", adding: "The effects of cyberbullying are every bit as harmful as the more traditional forms and, in some ways, even more so.

"Bullies can reach a wider audience without leaving the safety of their homes and the bullying can go on 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Dore said bullies could directly target their victims or use social media websites, chat and public forums to harass them. And it could be hard to get humiliating images, threats and comments removed from social media sites.

"There is little the victim can do to stop cyberbullying. Cyberbullies often hide behind fake accounts and online identities," she said.

Unlike previous research, which has focused on adolescents, the new study surveyed 4500 children in Grades 3, 4 and 5. Cellphone ownership across the grades was 50%.

Pupils across all grades admitted to being cyberbullies and the Grade 3s and 4s said they endured more cyberbullying.

"Phone ownership could be tied to increased opportunity and vulnerability," Englander said, suggesting that parents consider the risks as well as benefits of giving cellphones to primary school children.