Const. Angela Rabut of Terrace RCMP talks to students at schools about online safety and parents when possible.

Cyberbullying: what you can do to counter it

“The biggest key for parents is to have lots and lots of conversation," says Terrace RCMP Constable Angela Rabut

Parents are being encouraged to talk to their youths more about their online activity, in light of a recent study which found that internet bullying and sending sexual pictures is alarmingly prevalent and growing among B.C. youths.

The study surveyed 30,000 students in B.C. and found that close to 1 in 5 females and 1 in 10 males experienced bullying on the internet (cyberbullying) or met someone online they felt was unsafe.

As for sharing sexual photos online (sexting), 11 per cent of males and six per cent of females reported that they had sexted on the day before taking the survey.

Terrace RCMP community policing/media relations officer Const. Angela Rabut said she expects it would be same among Terrace youths.

“Terrace youth are not immune from the internet and they would fall in line with our provincials stats,” she said.

The study, done by the non-profit McCreary Centre Society, surveyed nearly 30,000 students ages 12-19 in 56 of B.C.’s 59 school districts, representing 98 per cent of students enrolled in public schools.

They found that the more time youths spent online, the more likely they were to report safety issues such as meeting unsafe people, being bullied online, and sexting photos. Those experiences were also linked with “poorer mental health ratings, fewer hours of sleep, extreme stress and despair, self-harm, and suicidal ideation and attempts.”

One of the key things for parents, is that the study showed that youths who had “support from family, school, peers, or adults in their community were less likely to experience online safety problems.”

Also, 20 per cent of youth who were victimized online but who had a supportive adult in their family seriously considered suicide compared to 50 per cent who did not have this type of support.

Rabut said she speaks about these online risks whenever she can to youths and parents.

She advises parents to have more open conversations with youths about their online activity, and to do things together outside of the internet world.

“The biggest key for parents is to have lots and lots of conversation…Get them to show you their phone, show you what the apps look like,” Rabut said.

Secondly, Rabut recommends that parents ensure that tablets, phones and computers are not the focal point of their children’s lives. “We as parents sometimes need to disengage as well, and spend quality time with our kids that doesn’t involved the internet,” she said.

If youths open up to parents about bullying or sexting, Rabut says it is important for parents to resist the knee-jerk reaction to cut their children off from the internet.

“For youth, internet is a very important part of their lives. They are being raised in a digital world and we have to recognize that fact,” she said. Cutting them off “is just going to close the door of communication with your child.”

Despite apps that can nanny a child’s internet use, Rabut said Wi-Fi internet is everywhere and extremely easy to access by phone, iPod, or other device.

“The best advice I can give to parents is talk to your kids a lot… Have that open dialogue so that if something happens, they will go to you and tell you.”

The research director of the McCreary study, Annie Smith, said the same thing after talking to many of the youth surveyed.

“When we took these results back to young people, they told us that for the most part they really don’t know how to protect themselves online or what to do when they have a bad experience. They are looking to the adults in their life to support and guide them through this, but often feel that adults don’t know what to do either, other than telling them to turn their computer off, which is just not realistic for most teenagers,” Smith said.

Earlier this month, Const. Rabut spoke to all the classes at Skeena Middle School about online safety, and she visits other school classrooms whenever invited.

She warns students about online predators, who are often very candid about having “an adult relationship,” and groom youth by flattery, talking about “adult subjects,” distancing them from parents, and encouraging secrecy and meeting offline.

She also tells youths not to post and share personal schedules or contact information, and warns that students need to be aware that their online footprint will never go away.

“Ten years from now, when you are applying for that scholarship or your first job, your first job interview is not face-to-face anymore; it’s an internet search, and depending on what you look like on the internet, that’s your first interview,” Rabut said. “You may have all the credentials in the world, but you’re not even going to get a face-to-face if you do not have an appropriate digital footprint.”

Rabut encourages youths that if anything does happen or even if they sense something unsafe, to stop contact with the person, block them and report the concern to the website provider and to cybertip.ca.

Finally, make sure to tell an adult, she advises. “Adults are maybe not as knowledgeable in the area of computers as youth are, but we have knowledge in life… If we can’t help them ourselves, we can look around and get the help they need,” she said.

Below are a few of the results found in the McCreary study:

• There are increasing numbers of students affected and links between victims and victimizing behaviour and suicide.

• Youth who have been cyberbullied are 10 times more likely to bully others (29 percent of bullying victims bullied others, compared to 3 percent with non-victims).

• Students cyberbullied or who sexted were more likely than others to report mental health issues, fewer hours of sleep, avoiding extracurricular activities and missing school for fear of bullying.

The McCreary study results can be found at http://www.mcs.bc.ca/pdf/untangling_the_web_.pdf