Thank you, Madam Speaker. Last week thousands of children across the territory resumed or started school after a summer holiday that probably felt too short for some, too long for others. This is an exciting time for parents and children, but it is not without some anxiety. Kids wonder if they’ll find friends and fit in. Parents often share in those worries and also hope that their children will be safe, healthy and happy as they learn.
The spread of technology into book bags and pockets often makes learning easier and more fun, but it can also make it harder to keep kids safe too. Bullying, unfortunately, has been around for a long time, but children and young people now face the added danger of cyberbullying. Moreover, the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that whilst most cyberbullying occurs outside of school hours, it often originates at school and involves classmates.
Cyberbullying is defined as harassment or intimidation that takes place online. This can occur using social media, text messaging, email, image sharing and other platforms. It can include sending intentionally hurtful messages, spreading rumours or lies, sharing humiliating or embarrassing images, and sometimes even making threats.
No one knows for certain, but it has been estimated that one in five Australian children aged 8 to 15 may have experienced cyberbullying. The most common time for this to occur is around the transition from primary school to high school, but it can and does occur throughout adolescence and beyond.
The effects of cyberbullying can be devastating. These include:
· lower school attendance and performance
· feelings of isolation, fear and depression and
· decreased self-esteem and confidence.
In extreme cases, cyberbullying has even led to self-harm, including suicide.
Many parents and other adults can be oblivious to cyberbullying because unlike what takes place on the oval at recess or after school, this kind frequently hides behind personal accounts and passwords. It is important therefore to recognise the signs and symptoms of cyberbullying and understand some of the strategies for keeping children safe.
The Australian eSafety Commissioner lists the following as signs that a child might be in trouble:
· being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
· changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry
· appearing more lonely or distressed
· a decline in their school work
· avoidance of school or clubs and
· becoming secretive about their online activities and mobile phone use.
If parents or other carers see these signs, they should talk with their children. It is also recommended to keep a close eye on online behaviour and to keep kids connected to supportive friends and other family members. Reassure them that they won’t lose access to the internet or their phones just because they’ve opened up about a problem.
Report instances of cyberbullying to the online service provider, and remember that you can ask for content to be removed. Serious cyberbullying can be reported to the eSafety Commissioner via an online complaints form. This website also has a link to the Kids Helpline, which provides online or phone support 24 hours per day. When the issue involves other students, parents should also speak to the school principal.
There are also important steps that parents and carers can take to help keep kids safe in the first place. These include:
· talking with children about cyberbullying before it occurs
· establishing guidelines for technology use at home
· monitoring usage of the internet and mobile phones without being too controlling
· developing a good relationship with a child’s school and
· building a child’s resilience and self-esteem.
In many ways, Madam Speaker, this is the best of times and the worst of times for our children. The sum of the world’s knowledge is at their fingertips, but this means that hurtful words and harmful images can be too. I encourage all parents and carers in the ACT to learn more about cyberbullying and do all the right things they can to help keep their precious children safe. I have confidence that we can do this.