Teen cyber bullying rampant, warns coroner

Coroner Dr Wallace Bain says the level of abuse is becoming more violent, graphic and disturbing.  Photo / Ben Fraser
Coroner Dr Wallace Bain says the level of abuse is becoming more violent, graphic and disturbing. Photo / Ben Fraser

Teenagers cyber bullying their peers are taking a "no holds barred" approach, with some of their obtained comments so bad "they make your hair stand on end", a Rotorua coroner says.

Dr Wallace Bain, who played a major role in bringing about the Harmful Digital Communications Act, says while the response to cyber bullying has improved, the bullying itself is still a significant problem, particularly among youth.

"The devotion kids have to social media these days is astounding. Increasingly we are seeing people say, do and write things they would never do to another person's face.


"When I do school talks with Mike King I tell the students, 'I can undress you'. I get some funny looks at first but then go on to say every text, Tweet, Facebook message - anything you send to anyone, I can find.

"Even if you delete it, it stays online forever - they often don't think about that when sending a message they will later come to regret."

Dr Bain said the level of abuse was becoming more violent, graphic and disturbing.

"These young people are becoming more and more desensitised and won't hold anything back. Social media enables young people to feel like somebody when in the real world they feel like a nobody, it becomes a matter of ego.

"I've done inquests where I've accessed the content of cyber bullying and it can be a stack six inches thick. You go through these messages of hate and abuse and it makes your hair stand on end."

He said cyber bullying was more common in youth because the frontal cortex of their brains had not fully developed.

"It is that section of the brain that assesses risk. When it is not fully developed, people are less likely to consider the consequences of their words or actions."

Increasingly we are seeing people say, do and write things they would never do to another person's face.
Dr Wallace Bain

He said that education was the key to solving the cyber bullying issue.

"I do praise the Government for taking the issue seriously but in order to reduce the problem we need to be educating our young people.

"Schools need to be on top of it and parents need to be aware of what their children are doing online. Cellphones are extremely accessible now that almost every child has one, and they are so adept at using the technology that parents need to have guidelines and rules in place," he said.

"Cyber bullying is a problem but it is a problem we are facing head-on."

- Stephanie Arthur-Worsop

Where to get help:

• In an emergency: call 111
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633, or text 234 (available 24/7) or talk@youthline.co.nz or live chat (between 7pm and 11pm) http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155 (weekdays 11am to 5pm)
• NetSafe: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723), www.theorb.org.nz

How parents can stop cyberbullying:

• Understand where your kids are going online, what they are doing and who they are talking to.
• Spend time in your child's online world.
• Accept and acknowledge how important technology is to your child.
• Don't ask your child if they're being cyberbullied. Use their language - have they seen mean texts circulating, humiliating photos or messages on others' Facebook walls?
• Don't downplay covert bullying. Don't dismiss it saying "don't worry ... it doesn't matter if you've been left out" or "just ignore the bullying". This tells the child that you don't take their situation seriously and can even convey that it's normal for others to treat them this way.
• Make it clear cyberbullying will not result in phone or internet access being taken away. Discuss this with your child and reassure them that's not how you'll deal with it.
• Teach your kids how to be good cyber citizens before they are in Year 4, when they may begin to venture online.
• Much of cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying is learned behaviour. Look at what behaviours you're modelling to your kids. Is sarcasm and point-scoring part of your family culture?
• Don't contact the other child but tell the school principal.

- NZ Herald

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