For many adolescents who use social media, being harassed online is a normal occurrence.
“Why should things be better online than offline?” says Sabine Eder, a specialist in how children use digital media.
“Harassment exists there in many different forms, such as the posting of cruel comments,” says Eder, who runs is the chairwoman of the Association for Media Education and Communication Culture (GMK) in Germany.
Both boys and girls are targeted, she says, “but girls are also often asked by adult men to send them sexually explicit pictures of themselves, for example. And in the gaming community they’re sometimes verbally abused on account of their gender.”
Responses to online harassment vary. “Adolescents who know how to defend themselves and that you needn’t feel ashamed generally handle it better,” Eder says, adding that those who can’t fight back often withdraw from social networking platforms.
“Consequently, girls and women are cut off from social networking to a certain extent,” remarks Martin Bregenzer, a media competence consultant working to promote media literacy and the proper handling of the Internet and new media.
“[Cyberbullying] often doesn’t come from strangers, but from schoolmates,” notes Eder. “The closer it is to the real world, the greater its impact.”
So for parents, a child who no longer wants to go to school may be an indication of online harassment. “Sudden changes in behaviour can be the first signs,” Bregenzer says.
Victims of online harassment should be sure to block the offending account on the social media network in question, Eder says. But first it’s advisable to take screenshots of the abusive postings and save them as evidence.
Online platforms also have mechanisms through which harassment can be reported. They’re often not easy to find though, says Bregenzer, so children and youth should get help from someone they trust.
“Parents should constantly communicate with their children regarding Internet use,” Bregenzer said. “Having a single talk isn’t enough – you’ve got to let them know you’re interested in what they’re doing online.”
Both Eder and Bregenzer recommend notifying the police if there’s a dramatic increase in online harassment.
And when parents download apps for their kids, they should be aware of what the apps can be used for and take any necessary precautions. – dpa