Young children could be at increased risk of cyberbullying because their parents are not discussing or addressing the dangers at an early enough age. This warning from Kaspersky Lab comes as a result of in-depth interviews undertaken with parents and young children to mark this year’s Safer Internet Day.
The interviews reveal that the majority of parents believe that cyberbullying is not a problem until children reach at least ten and have no plans to address it until then. This is despite the fact that when it comes to “traditional” bullying, many believe it starts, and poses an issue, at a much younger age.
This difference in perception is largely due to the assumption that cyberbullying is linked to using social media sites or open platforms – something many parents suggest their children do not do. However, the research revealed that some children as young as five are in fact using platforms where they can receive messages and interact with others, including shared school platforms, instant messaging, social games, online games, and even the photo-sharing site Instagram. As a result of this disconnect between assumption and reality, many children are left to browse the internet unsupervised, inadvertently being exposed to not just inappropriate content but also the risk of cyberbullying.
However, when probed further into discussing the dangers with their children, it emerged that many parents felt ill-equipped when it comes to approaching the issue of cyberbullying and other online dangers with their children. When asked whether there’s enough information available to help them understand and prevent cyberbullying, one parent commented: “We still don’t know all about it because it’s new to us. They know more about the technology half the time than we do, so we feel a bit in the dark.”
Commenting on the findings, David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab said:
The term cyberbullying might not be one that parents want to highlight to their young children, but online behaviour and safety should go hand-in-hand with teaching them not to talk to strangers. Parents may feel that educating young children about online dangers is a minefield; however, rather than feeling overwhelmed or unsure of how to tackle the issue, it may help to remember that the same dangers and advice apply when using the internet as they do in the real world. We encourage parents to talk openly about it as soon as their children start interacting online – which may be younger than they think. This will ensure that parents and children stay one step ahead of the cyberbullies and other online nasties rather than vulnerable to attack due to a lack of awareness.
Dr. Astrid Carolus, psychologist at the University of Wuerzburg adds:
The way that children now interact with each other has significantly changed. Children are growing up with technology and personal devices, using them quite naturally. However, many parents have not yet gotten used to these new technologies and do not understand what their children are doing online. Consequently, they have not acknowledged concrete risks certain websites, communities or applications bring. To give an example: Bullying online is easy, comfortable and less stressful. In contrast to “traditional bullying,” it does not involve face-to-face interaction. You do not see the victim, and you do not have to stand his fear and pain. Being more anonymous can intensify nasty online behaviour. Parents need to understand that their children could be both: offender and victim. As a result they need to start the education process with children from a much younger age.
Additional key findings from the interviews include:
· Misguided perceptions about online dangers exist in the very young.
The lack of openness around cyberbullying between parents and children means that the very young do not have a clear view around what online dangers are. While some recognise the need to be safe online, they do not understand why. The research revealed this lack of awareness with their key concerns being that they “might drop or break their iPad” or “do something wrong.” One five year old commented: “Because if it gets wet [a bit] it won’t work”.
· Children between the ages of seven and eleven are aware of cyberbullying; however, they do not perceive it as an immediate reason why they should be careful online.
Cyberbullying is known among this age group, but it is not considered the main issue when it comes to being safe online and not something that has been highlighted to them specifically. Instead, “being hacked,” meeting strangers who want to “kidnap them,” and clicking on a random video that might not be suitable, were cited as key online dangers.
· Young children have very differing opinions on what a cyberbully looks like.
When asked to draw or describe what they thought a cyberbully looks like, there is a significant difference in opinion which points towards lack of understanding and awareness amongst children.
For example, one young child drew an alien-like creature, while others described a cyberbully as being “scary” or someone “with a bald head.” Interestingly, one six year old responded with: “Daddy doesn’t even know. I asked him and he didn’t even know.” An older child described a cyberbully as a “big person,” “scary,” or a “thug,” while another drew a picture of a young girl crying, explaining “she’s a cyberbully because she’s unhappy.” Other children didn’t see a cyberbully as a monster – some simply drawing something far closer to the truth, a normal, unremarkable human being.
· Children do not realise the seriousness of nasty or malicious messages they receive online, or worse, would not tell a parent if they receive one.
A lack of education means that some children simply wouldn’t know what to do even if they realised they were being cyberbullied. While some children indicate that they would tell their parents or teachers if they were being cyberbullied, others don’t know how to react or respond. One child suggests he would “shout at them,” while another said he would “take a screenshot” but only tell a parent “if it got really serious.”