The degrading world of the cyber-bully

Cyber-bullying is rife among teenagers, according to new research - and many parents are unable to help their children because they are not techno-savvy.

Internet humiliation, intimidation and threats are the main vehicles for cyber-bullying, according to a survey of more than 13,000 teenagers.

Almost half had been cyber-bullied by a fellow student which has worried psychologists, an information communications technology (ICT) expert and local principal who say parents are not keeping up with their children's technological skills.

They say the internet has taken on a central role in teenage culture, creating a new landscape for social interaction.

The concerns come after the survey, carried out by Girlfriend magazine, revealed that flaming, online harassment, online denigration, online masquerading, and exclusion from an online group were common forms of cyber-bullying.

Online harassment and exclusion were most prevalent.

Of the 13,300 readers surveyed across New Zealand and Australia, 42 per cent had been cyber- bullied by a student at their school.

Of those, 69 per cent were also bullied in person.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said cyber-bullying needed to be seen as a significant public health issue because young people were "easy-targets" for abuse, especially since results found 97 per cent had access to the internet at home.

"Young people today are so technologically experienced that it can be intimidating for adults to keep up but parents and educators need to be aware of young people's online activities," Dr Carr-Gregg said.

"Parents often don't realise that the capacity for harm in the cyber world can be much faster, more widespread and just as damaging as in the playground," he said.

ICT consultant and adviser for schools in the western Bay of Plenty, Mark Treadwell, said parents had lost leadership in the home in terms of technology.

"But the gap is not as big as the perception is," he said, urging parents to get informed.

He said it was common for young people to use instant messaging services - some using pen names such as "death girl love hate" - and engaging in a negative culture of chatting.

"If parents knew the right questions to ask they would have a better idea how to deal with these things," he said.

He advised parents to ensure children only conversed with "first-level primary friends" or those they know in person. Secondary contacts or referrals from primary contacts should be blocked.

He said all internet use should be open and passwords never allowed to keep things private from parents.

But Otumoetai Intermediate principal Henk Popping said pupils were issued with passwords so they could be monitored closely in classrooms.

"We know what people are doing on our computers all the time," he said.

"If someone pulls up a page they shouldn't, we know about it straight away ... there is no way our students can get into chat rooms or messaging services.

"It is a requirement of staff that we are always looking over their shoulders."

Mr Popping agreed with survey conclusions that children were often more techno-savvy than their parents and have the skills to communicate with friends, and strangers on the other side of the world - all without clogging up the phone line.

Bay child psychotherapist Augustina Driessen said she was aware that cyber- bullying took place in homes.

Parents should monitor their children's computer use closely, Ms Driessen said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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