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Cyberbullying: Should we protect our kids or toughen them up?

Toughen up, kids. That seems to be Liberal senator Cory Bernardi’s message when it comes to childhood bullying. But does he have a point? Should kids learn to be more resilient when it comes to cyberbullying?

Facing bullying on the school ground versus on a computer screen or smartphone are two very difference experiences. One experience is sometimes physical, with intimidation tactics used on the school grounds and in public places. While cyberbullying seeps into private domains and the security of home and family life.

Australia’s cyberbullying statistics are pretty terrifying. From research commissioned by the Abbott government from a consortium led by the University of New South Wales’ Social Policy Research Centre, it was found that one in five Australian children between the ages of 8 and 15 experience cyberbullying.

In a further study published in the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, which interviewed more than 3,000 Australian students from years 6-12, it was found 83 per cent of victims of cyberbullying knew the bully in real life.

But the really worrying statistic is the link between cyberbullying and suicide, with at least 13 suicides reported between 2012 and 2013 likely to have been caused by bullying, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission. With that came tougher policies, one of which made its way through the senate.

New enhancing online safety for children laws passed through the senate on Wednesday and will result in a new children’s e-safety commission, which will handle complaints about bullying material targeted at children, also fining social media companies that don’t remove such content.

But Senator Bernardi says while the new policies are a step in the right direction, he worries children are being wrapped in cotton wool.

“Ultimately, children need to be taught a bit of resilience in some ways,” he said. “There is not always going to be someone there to pick up the hurt feelings.”

There is nothing wrong with a bit of resilience, but in a way that supports the child through what can be a very hurtful, shaming and alienating experience. Bullying is a 24-hour invasion of a person’s private space and since so much of how we communicate and interact with each other is online, it’s no wonder children feel cyberbullying is an inescapable threat which can’t be avoided as simply as turning off the smartphone or logging out of Facebook. A mixture of support and tidying up social media sites to keep them free of hurtful and damaging messages could surely go a long way.

What do you think? Do children need to toughen up when it comes to cyberbullying?

More on children and cyberbullying

Teen girl invents brilliant way to protect kids from cyberbullying
How to protect kids from cyberbullying
I survived cyberbullying, but it nearly ruined my life

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