As the father of four young children, one of the great fears I have looking forward is that they might one day be bullied online. Obviously as they get older, I will spend lots of time coaching them on using the internet and social media safely and responsibly, but I know that won’t necessarily protect them from other children that haven’t been, or indeed that are simply too immature to understand the consequences of their actions and so engage in cyberbullying.
On the other hand, as a web developer and internet marketing specialist, I’m a huge advocate for the internet and social media as you might expect, indeed I believe the positives of both far out way the negatives, but that’s not to say we shouldn’t work to eradicate the negatives.
In a national survey conducted by BullyingUK, a staggering 43.5% of children surveyed between the ages of 11 and 16 said they were bullied on social sites, and Childline state they had 12,000 counselling sessions with young people who talked about online issues last year. The scale of the problem is staggering, and by those statistics if you have two children, it’s statistically likely that one of them will become a victim in the future.
Cyberbullying quite literally ruins childhoods because unlike the more “traditional” forms of bullying there is no respite for children when they go home. Online bullies have access to our children 24-hours a day, 7 days a week via social media and video-sharing websites. Cyberbullying often goes on out of the sight of teachers and parents too, and can also involve mass humiliation for a child.
The fact cyberbullying happens is NOT the fault of inattentive parents or overworked teachers, or indeed the social media networks which today could never realistically police their sites entirely due to the volume of content being posted. The fault I believe is with the inability of our politicians to keep pace with technological changes in our society, let alone get ahead of them. Consequently they have failed to introduce adequate protections for our children by way of new legislation, which as things stand is perhaps the only way I can see to end cyberbullying entirely, at least until artificial intelligence offers a viable solution to this which it one day will I’m sure.
The negatives of children using social media go beyond online bullying too. Social media can also give strangers increased access to our children, putting them at greater risk of abuse. It also puts far too much pressure on children, with many of them spending more time developing their online persona, than building real-life friendships and developing their face-to-face social skills which they will need to lead full and happy lives.
Our children have the right to a more socially straightforward childhood like we parents enjoyed, and to grow up at their own pace, staying children for as long as they wish.
In conclusion and for all of the above reasons, I believe the Government should look at introducing new laws, and perhaps even consider restricting social media use until children reach an age at which they have been fully educated about its use/misuse, can fully understand the emotional damage cyberbullying may cause, and the legal ramifications of broadcasting inappropriate content or making libelous remarks online. Whilst I know it’s entirely true that many children would be able demonstrate a responsible use of social media from an early age, it would also be true to say many could be taught to drive a car safely at an earlier age than 17 too. We’d not consider lowering the driving age to accommodate them though, as an age has been set at which we know most teenagers have matured enough to understand the responsibilities and dangers of driving, and perhaps the same should be true of publishing content online.