by Paulina French

It’s a societal problem that is not going to go away very soon. It has existed since the medieval ages but today it is easier for bullies to thrive because they can hide behind tools that keep them safe. Tools like social media which are easily accessible and which they can hide behind with anonymity.

I am sure if you went to school – 20 to 30 years ago you may have either witnessed or been bullied by someone yourself. You were either a victim or perhaps you were the bully. The bullying happened at school or just outside the school gate where everybody could see, and perhaps cheer you on or support you as you fought the bully off. The words or the physical hurt is carried with you for the rest of your life. Those words play in your mind, especially at times when you are at your most vulnerable.

In the last week Google, Twitter and Facebook have been harshly criticized for not doing enough to help combat online hate speech. Google has responded to this by launching a series of workshops for teenagers, in the UK in particular,  to help them deal with hate speech and fake news.

At the same time, we as parents need to work very hard at being present in our children’s lives. This becomes increasingly difficult as our children grow up and enter different stages of their lives. We tend to fall into the trap of giving our children everything they want, not necessarily what they need. We suffer from the guilt of having to be away from them, so we shower them with everything they want materially, including mobile phones and tablets. We allow them free access to social media because we do not want them to feel “left out”. In doing so, they become vulnerable to the dangers associated with this. The dangers of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying will damage your child emotionally. Their self esteem and their self confidence will take a hit.

The chances of your child telling you that they are being cyberbullied are pretty slim. They are trying to deal with the hurt and pain of being bullied by either strangers, peers and at times their own friends. They also know that if they tell you, that you are likely to turn off their computer and Internet access, which is of course the last thing they want. It really is part of our role as parents to let our children know that we will not judge them. All we want is for them to be safe.

During an encounter with confirmation candidates at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium in Milan on March the 25th this year, Pope Francis said “I ask you, in silence: In your schools, in your neighbourhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?”

Bullying is never acceptable in any situation. In our homes, in our schools and even in our places of work. What we show our children is what they too will practice and eventually become themselves. What are you really modelling?