Online bullying affects 1 in 3 children

By James Ihaka

A third of all internet-surfing kids will suffer from cyber-bullying and many are leaving themselves vulnerable to identity theft and other online abuse, an e-learning expert says.

Dr Martyn Wild, a cyber-safety advocate and honorary professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, is in New Zealand to present free seminars to parents on internet safety for their tech-savvy children.

He said British research showed internet use among children had exploded, with nearly all those between the ages of 8 and 17 having some online access and kids as young as 5 going online.

The number of children aged between 12 and 15 using the internet had doubled in the past two years.

Of these, about half had given out information about themselves on websites like Bebo or MySpace.

"So it's not surprising that the prevalence of cyber bullying is running at 35 per cent - that's 35 per cent of all kids have been bullied or are bullies or are both," Dr Wild said.

"That's a significant number of kids that can be emotionally damaged."

Dr Wild's claims follow a number of electronic messaging incidents.

Alex Teka from Putaruru was found dead a day before the school year began in 2006. The 12-year-old had been the victim of a text and email bullying campaign.

Earlier this year, Takapuna Grammar School student Toran Henry, 17, was found dead a day after fellow students used a cellphone to film him being beaten in a fight and distributed it among other pupils.

Dr Wild said children were by nature "risk-takers" and could be making themselves prone to bullying through lax online security.

"They're opening their profiles to public settings with a view to gaining more friends because the whole game of being online for kids is to attract as many friends as they can.

"Kids are getting into all sorts of danger because they're not taking care with the kind of information they're uploading."

He recommended parents communicate with their children rather than threaten to ban internet use.

"If you take it away, you take away their friendship groups and they will go to libraries or friends' homes and use the internet there.

"Parents need to sit down and discuss with them what kind of sites they're going to, how much personal information they're giving out and what kind of safeguards they have in place to prevent them being accessible by strangers."

Dr Wild is holding seminars in Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland next week.

NET DEFICITS
* 99% of children 8-17 years have regular access to the internet*
* 12-15 year olds have doubled their use of the internet over just two years*
* Almost 50% of children 12-15 years have given out personal information online*
* 84% use chat rooms daily +
* 74% use instant messaging daily +
* Up to 90% of 8-16 year olds have viewed adult content online, most while doing homework**
Sources: *OfCom, March 2008, + Chatalert study 2006, **http:// parentalcontrol.3x.com.au, 2008

- NZ Herald

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