Life Relationships Cyberbullying and sexting are parts of growing-up
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Cyberbullying and sexting are parts of growing-up

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In his new book Beyond Cyberbullying, Melbourne-based child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg advises parents on how to deal with their children’s online reputation, including the controversial subject of sexting.

“These are very real matters, parents spend a lot of time teaching their kids to swim and making sure they know how to cross the road, but perhaps they aren’t as invested as they ought to be in making sure their kids are safe online,” Carr-Gregg told The New Daily.

He said while potentially embarrassing, parents needed to get over their denial that their children are sexting.

“I don’t think they are aware of the propensity for children to take nude photos of themselves and send them to others,” Carr-Gregg said.

“Despite the publicity, the parents who come to me are absolutely astonished that this would ever happen to them, yet the sending of provocative or sexual photos using a mobile phone seems almost to be part of growing up.”

Provocative or sexual photos using a mobile phone seems almost to be part of growing up.

The major issue here is legal, with not enough parents generally understanding how the law works. For example in some jurisdictions victims of a sext are treated the same way as the perpetrator in court.

“They don’t know that their children are committing a criminal offence and they don’t know how to manage risks…

“I’m still struggling with where the logic is with lumping sexually curious kids in with paedophiles. It seems an odd law.”

In his book Carr-Gregg guides parents in how to understand and help their children in the digital age from the basics (what is the internet) to helpful or dangerous apps and games.

The first version of Beyond Cyberbullying was published five years ago – when Facebook was just kicking off and Twitter didn’t exist.

Since publication, one of the apps warned against – iFunny – has since been removed from the app store and returned again.

He says social networks have given parents a whole new set of challenges to deal with the online world.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg

The major problems he sees are parents and children not understanding the long-term effect of their comments online, a poor understanding of legal issues and a reluctance of parents to say no.

Kids under the age of 13 don’t have the social, emotional competency to manage a digital footprint.

“Kids under the age of 13 don’t have the social, emotional competency to manage a digital footprint.

“Parents don’t like saying ‘no’ because they are worried their children won’t accept them; your job as a parent is to be a mentor not a mate and you have to set limits and boundaries about what they do online.”

Here are Carr-Gregg’s top tips on how to guide and look after children online.

WHAT IS CYBER BULLYING

Cyberbullying isn’t something you can just block or delete. It can come in many forms.

Direct attacks:

-Private bullying such as sending text, or online messages either written or images (including sexts).
-Public attacks such as posting information online or sending mass emails.

Indirect attacks:

-Sending a group text asking contacts to forward hundreds of messages to the victim’s inbox or mobile.
-Stealing the victims online identity (can include sending hateful messages to contacts, posting lewd images comments or status updates, post provocative message on chat room of hate group or child porn website or creating a fake blog.)
-Sign up victim for porn and junk messages
-Trolling, pranks

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Mr Carr-Gregg says children being bullied will undergo changes in personality; they will be more withdrawn, more anxious, more sad, they’ll appear lonely or distressed.

There will be unexpected changes in friendship groups, decline in school work, change in sleep patterns avoidance of school or clubs

WHAT TO DO

Talk to your children.

“My message to parents is if you child shows any of signs [of being bullied], anything out of character you need to tell them that you are worried and you want to help.

“If they don’t open up to you, one of my pieces of advice is to recruit other people to talk to them, aunties, uncles or other siblings.”

Don’t deal with it yourself. Report it to the authorities.

Don’t respond. Block and report is absolutely the way to go.

“A lot of the time when you are being cyber bullied, the worst thing you can do, as Charlotte Dawson found out (when she engaged with Twitter trolls), is respond.”

Know the law

“One of the other big problems is that parents need to know the law, the knowledge of the law in relation to the internet, is not only at an all time low for the children but it’s also pretty abominable for the adults as well.”

Use resources

In his book, Mr Carr-Gregg recommends various online games and apps to help children’s mental health.

“Video games are great. They are wonderful ways to keep families connected; it builds leadership skills, it can be a great antidote to depression and anxiety and it isn’t associated with, as a lot of people think, increased violence or increased BMI.”

He suggests parents use the CyberSmart website which provides guidelines and education for parents and children using the internet.