Recently there have been more rumblings about the need to have updated laws and laws that are more readily used when it comes to dealing with instances of cyberbulling. Absolutely there are instances where this needs to happen. In fact it is crucial laws keep up with the changing environment. They must better meet the needs of a population living out much of its daily life in an online space. Laws can be a necessary deterrent to stopping some cyberbullying and to set an example to the world that certain behaviours will not be tolerated. There are cases where legal action is justified, warranted and necessary.
For a good majority of cases, I believe our laws will do little to change peoples behaviour and therefore cannot be relied upon as an adequate antidote to cyberbullying.
Particularly when we are talking about our children. We are all hearing the statistics. 1 in 4 children online have been bullied. 1 in 2 in a recent UK study. What constitutes the definition of cyberbullying however, can be varied in explanation and degree. These figures may or may not be bullying by definition of a real, ongoing, premeditated attack on a persons physical or emotional safety. Legally speaking, defences of freedom of speech and pre-existing mental health issues, have in the past ensured the process and outcomes blurred, confusing and inconsistent.
There are some kids that are downright nasty. Sometimes these kids have downright nasty parents. Their behaviours have been learnt. Sometimes these kids are lonely. Sometimes they are scared or angry. Sometimes they are anxious or depressed. Sometimes they are just trying to keep up with others. Sometimes they are having a joke. Sometimes they don’t realise the power of their words. Sometimes they deserve to be punished. Sometimes they need help.
Relying on a legal system as our only option for dealing with bullies leaves us missing so many opportunities to help all of those involved, particularly when we are dealing with kids.
Laws can’t teach critical thinking skills
There is no doubt that the greatest filtering software lie between the ears of every person. We can put on security filters, set privacy settings and monitor our child’s actions online, but neither of those measures will ever be 100% full proof or reliable, particularly as our kids get older and more independent with their online interactions. Adults and children alike must actively use these critical thinking skills every time they log on, to the point where this critical thinking becomes almost subconscious. Kids need to learn the appropriate behaviours, to make the right choices when interacting with others and to know when and how to ‘click away’.
Laws can’t teach resilience
We want our kids to know when to click away, but we also want them to know that a bullying incident doesn’t have to define them. Sometimes when we are hanging out online we need to rely on resilience and a thick skin in order to know when a negative interaction is something we need to ignore. We need these bullying behaviours to stop, but we also need to know that human nature dictates there will always be people trying to bring others down.
Laws can’t help people understand and deal with their emotions
Most bullying is a result of a lack of understanding of ones emotions and an inability to process or properly regulate them. If a child is anxious, angry, fearful or alone, it can often come out in bullying. Likewise if a child is anxious, angry, fearful or alone they can often find themselves being bullied. Emotional intelligence must now be something that we focus heavily on in order to give kids the skills and support to know how to deal with these emotions.
Laws give labels
Label someone a bully, they are more likely to bully. Similarly label someone a victim and they are more likely to be a victim. Dragging kids through a court system with these labels only sets them up for a future of repeated behaviours. Rosie Thomas from anti bullying group Project Rockit, summed it up beautifully last week in her interview here:
“we focus on bullying as a behaviour and not a person. Rather than prosecute, young children often need to develop the social skills and the ability to reflect on their behaviour. Sometimes a clean slate or fresh beginning (for perpetrators and targets) can create strong cultural change within a school. In our experience, this frees young people and gives them the opportunity to make positive changes”.
Laws make it even more Public
Laws don’t take in to account the embarrassment and fear a child may feel who has been bullied. We know that many many kids do not say anything to anyone when they are bullied. One of the reasons kids give for not speaking out is fear of being excluded from the technology and embarrassment at having everyone know they have been bullied. Litigating over a case of bullying would only exascerbate these feelings for the person being bullied.
We need schools to make clear and concise the sorts of behaviours that will not be tolerated both at school and after hours online. We need kids to be confident in knowing the process for reporting cyberbullying that will lead to an outcome that allows the bullying to be dealt with before it gets to a litigating stage. We need social networks to get better at responding to reports of inappropriate and offending behaviour. We need parents to ramp up their teachings of empathy and kindness, to monitor what their kids are doing and to be alert to the signs of bullying behaviour. We also need parents to listen when they are confronted about their child’s behaviour. We need them to set a good example in the way they treat others. If we allow our kids to play in this vast online playground, we need to know they have the skills and understanding to play safe.
We all need to come together to show respect for others, and to respect ourselves, every time we get online.
The Cybersafety Help Button provides internet users with cybersafety information and assistance
Kids Helpline provides free and private advice and counselling