by Paulina French

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

I am sure if you went to school between 20 and 30 years ago, you may have either witnessed bullying or have been bullied by someone yourself. You were a victim, or perhaps you were the bully. Often bullying happened at school, or just outside the school gate. People would either watch you and cheer you on or support you as you fought the bully off. The words or the physical hurt caused by bullying is carried within us for the rest of our lives. The hurtful words play over and over in your mind – especially at times when you are most vulnerable.

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

At the same time, parents and guardians need to work very hard at being present in their 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 all they desire 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. More and more research suggests that cyberbullying will damage your child emotionally. Amongst other things, their self-esteem and their self-confidence will take a hit.

The chances of your child telling you that they are being cyberbullied is pretty slim. They are trying to deal with the confusion, hurt and pain of being bullied by either strangers, peers or their own friends. They also know that if they tell you as a parent or guardian, you are likely to turn off their computer or limit their internet access. This is the last thing they want. It is part of our role as parents and guardians 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 in Milan on 25 March 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 in our places of work. What we show our children is what they too will practice and eventually become themselves.

What do you show the children in your care?