A harmless post to you may be devastating to others

PETALING JAYA: The lack of online etiquette among adults and adolescents has contributed to cyberbullying, say experts.

With almost everyone having a smartphone with Internet access now, they said the physical and verbal bullying that occurred years ago has now shifted online.

Early Child Care and Education Council founding president Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng said it was not uncommon for parents to set a bad example for their children with their own over-reliance on online communications, smartphones and other electronic devices.

“It is rare for an adolescent not to have a smartphone now as it is a common tool for communication and learning.

“So parents must make sure when they tell their children what they should not do, they do not do it,” she said in an interview.

Dr Chiam said it was not only teenagers but many adults know little about how to behave online.

“They do not consider it bullying – to them, it is fun or just teasing or ridiculing. But the impact can be devastating.

“There have been cases of those who resorted to taking their own lives due to cyberbullying,” she added.

To promote a psychologically-safe environment for adolescents, Dr Chiam said parents must teach their children online courtesy when they give them the freedom to use a smart device.

She also advised parents not to use smartphones as a way to stop children from misbehaving.

“Not only is the child not supervised, it also gives the child the wrong idea – it is bribery and allows the child to use it to bargain for what he or she wants,” she said.

Assoc Prof Dr Anasuya Jegathevi Jegathesan, University of Cyberjaya’s Dean of the Faculty of Psychology and Social Sciences, said using a mobile device to pacify children was not teaching them to behave responsibly in social situations.

“It shouldn’t be used as a pacifier. Children need to be taught how to socialise,” she said.

She said technological growth and the Internet had allowed bullying to “follow children home”.

“Not just girls, but boys are also targeted,” she added.

Dr Anasuya also said many bullies don’t realise that the things they post online rarely disappear.

“Stuff they do when they were 16 can be used against them at 38,” she said, adding that recruiters screen jobseekers’ online profiles to avoid hiring candidates who might bring shame and a bad name to the company.

Dr Anasuya said there was a need to teach pupils about the dangers of cyberbullying and how to respond to it in the formal education system.

“Perhaps the teachers are not familiar with cyberbullying, but there are many institutions and support groups that are willing to help,” she added.

Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia chairman Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim agreed that schools should teach students how to deal with cyberbullying, online boundaries and the consequences of their actions.

“It is best to prepare them to handle these negative situations that can affect them psychologically. Continuous, persistent and sustainable initiatives are also crucial – there is no shortcut.

“There has been a lack of action not just by the authorities but also by parents, schools and the community,” she said.

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