As police investigate shocking online threats to Auckland students aged as young as 12, an internet watchdog and a respected child psychologist have spoken about how to prevent children becoming cyber bullies.
The Herald revealed this week that police were investigating a complaint from an Auckland high school over threatening messages posted on Snapchat.
The complaint being investigated by officers related to messages sent to a Westlake Girls High School student.
IT came after students at Albany Senior High School said they had been left in fear after receiving death and rape threats from an anonymous account.
Figures compiled by Netsafe reveal one in every five Kiwi teens have been the subject of some form of online bullying and/or bullying. The threats come in a variety of forms including name calling, threats, making a mockery of someone else and impersonating someone online.
Netsafe website's features a wide array of resources for young people, and their parents, on how to combat online harassment.
But leading child psychologist Dr Emma Woodward said more emphasis needed to be placed on identifying ways to help avoid teens from becoming cyber bullies.
"Our brains are not yet evolved to develop alongside technology because technology has developed much faster than we can as living organisms" Woodward. "We need to make sure we are raising children who are emotionally literate."
Woodward – a founder of The Child Psychology Service with more than 20 years' experience working with young people, schools and the community – said people tend to bully others when our own emotional experiences are not organised in a healthy way.
She added children are not given as many opportunities to develop healthy emotional regulations when technology is involved.
While social media was initially set up as a way to connect people, she believed it had now started to disconnect teens from reality.
"We teach kids from a young age these days to use technology as a form of escapism from everyday life and the uncomfortable emotions that we do not want to deal with," Woodward said.
"We model it ourselves and we now use technology as a means to comfort children. When the children turn into teenagers, they start to use social media as their escape."
Cyber-bullying became an essential part of the escapism for some teens, Woodward said.
The online harassment was often a discharge of uncomfortable emotions that people struggled to deal with - instead resorting to pass them onto somebody else.
As the internet provides the perfect vehicle to do this anonymously, there are often no or very little consequences, Woodward said.
"Cyber-bullying itself is a pretty impulsive act; you can type something out pretty quickly and press send and then you have discharged that uncomfortable feeling onto somebody else."
Because the posts can be made anonymously, they often included hurtful statements which would not be said to the recipient's face.
"We have to ensure that young people don't continue to develop this skewed perception of reality."
Woodward encouraged a nationwide conversation with young people surrounding social media, not only establish safety against cyber-bullying, but to prevent young people from becoming the bully themselves.
She said that instilling honesty, empathy and accountability into young Kiwis would help prevent the growing rate of cyber-bullying.
"A restorative approach is the best approach in order for them to change their behaviour instead of hide it, it aids connections, the thing missing when you bully someone online is that connection. It makes the other person a human being."
Netsafe - a non-profit organisation focused on online safety – has previously highlighted how a third of Kiwi teens spend over four hours of their day either passively consuming social media or actively posting online.
One in four teens also said they would be "devastated" if they lost access to their technology and social media.
Martin Cocker, the chief executive of Netsafe, said that although we can generalise that cyber-bullying has similar short and long-term effects as "school-yard" bullying, what really sets it apart is how intrusive it is.
What set it apart was that you could be targeted by online bullying in the classroom, at work, on the bus or sitting alone in your room.