THE Covid-19 pandemic has forced students at all levels to continue their education via distance learning over the Internet.
While the Internet adequately facilitates the teaching and learning process, increase in usage could create more opportunities for cyberbullying.
Studies have shown a positive relationship between the amount of time spent on the Internet and cyberbullying. According to a 2019 poll conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund in 30 countries, including Malaysia, about one in three youths aged between 13 and 24 years old claimed to be a victim of cyberbullying.
Among adolescents, cyberbullying commonly occurs during the transition period from primary to secondary school. They are usually bullied on different media, including electronic mail (e-mail), web pages, instant messaging, chat rooms, social networking sites and online games.
Cyberbullying happens in many forms, including posting false information, sharing another person’s details without permission, initiating hostile and insulting interactions and repeatedly sending messages or posting insulting remarks about an individual or his/her family members.
Victims of cyberbullying are often depressed and display signs of anxiety, hostility or aggression, stress or distress. They also suffer from low self-esteem and loneliness, and some may turn to substance abuse or have suicidal thoughts, which may eventually lead to the act of taking one’s life.
My research team and I conducted a study on the effects of cyberbullying on the victims and their coping strategies. Funded by the Fundamental Research Grant Scheme (FRGS), a grant provided by the Education Ministry, our study involved identifying and interviewing adolescents who were victims of cyberbullying. They were identified by school counsellors and interviewed by members of the research team who are registered counsellors.
One crucial finding from our study is that there is low intention among victims to report and seek help from those who are older than them. They were reluctant to reach out to adults, for example, parents, teachers and school counsellors, and preferred to share their experience with their peers and also looked to them for advice.
This reluctance to seek help from those older than them was due to fear of negative outcomes, including loss of privileges on mobile phone use and time spent on the Internet.
Another reason for not seeking help from adults is that the advice given to them by the latter tend to be useless in solving the problem. This indicates that there is lack of awareness and skills among parents and teachers to deal with cyberbullying.
Based on this study, we strongly recommend that programmes to increase awareness of cyberbullying and ways to help the victims be conducted not only for adolescents but also for parents and school teachers.
Adolescents need to know how to protect themselves and where to get resources that can guide them to seek help. Programmes for parents and teachers can be focused on how to identify victims of cyberbullying and proactive actions to mitigate and prevent its negative impacts.
We believe cyberbullying can be tackled with collaboration from various parties. Besides working with the school administrators, parents and members of the community must also build a safe place for victims to seek support and help.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DR SIAH POH CHUA
Department of Psychology and Counselling,
Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kampar