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Let’s talk cyberbullying on the first International Day Against Violence and Bullying at School

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Teenagers navigate a different landscape today than any of the generations before them. Your parents and you faced sets of challenges that varied from each other all those decades ago. What makes the current generation’s adolescence unique is the omnipresence of social media and the internet.
Granted, we had the internet growing up, but it wasn’t wireless and there were no smartphones. Nor was Facebook, Youtube or Instagram invented. You didn’t see yourself through the objectifying lens of social media that they do. Young girls, in particular, are on the receiving end of trolling and cyberbullying which objectifies them no end.

Cyberbullying is more rampant in India

Let’s talk cyberbullying as we observe the first-ever International Day against Violence and Bullying at School Including Cyberbullying today. Online bullying in the form of texts, chat messages, morphed photos or comments is cyberbullying. The quarantine and shutdown of schools and colleges during the COVID-19 lockdown has only increased the screen time for Generation Z. With classes moving online, they are more digitally connected than ever before and physically distanced from their friends. A majority of teens in India have already experienced some or the other form of cyberbullying.
COVID-19 has increased these incidences for women and teenagers. A 2020 study by NGO Child Rights and You found that 22.4% of Indian teens aged 13-18 years, who used the internet for three or more hours (don’t they all!) were vulnerable to cyberbullying. Titled Online Study and Internet Addiction, the report also found that half of the victims of cyberbullying in the Delhi-NCR region had not even reported it to their parents or authorities. This means your son or daughter could be a victim of this heinous practice while you are completely oblivious.

How is cyberbullying harming youth?

Comments and direct messages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook contain more harsh comparisons than positivity. Users have no qualms hiding behind their screens to make nasty statements they would never utter face-to-face. Digital communication is faster than the speed of light, and many of these chats turn into misunderstandings.
It can negatively affect a young person’s performance in school, friendships, self-image and mental health. A 15-year-old girl posting selfies gets comments about how big her ears are, and right then and there, her body image is distorted. Studies have shown that girls as young as 12 are having eating disorders because they are starving themselves to look model-thin in their selfies.
Depression is another outcome of cyberbullying. The problem is that it creeps up slowly in teenagers, so parents often don’t notice the gradual symptoms. They think it’s teen angst and rebellion. If your typically normal teenager is sleeping less and having more headaches, it’s time to reach out and have a heart-to-heart.

What is International Day against Violence and Bullying At School?

2020 is the first year that the International Day against Violence and Bullying At School is being observed. In December 2019, UNESCO Member States nominated the first Thursday of every November as this special day. With school violence on the rise, this was an important milestone in children and adolescents’ rights to education, safety and good health. School and junior college students should not have to worry about violence from their peers while preparing for adult life. This day also brings to notice the initiatives working towards ending violence among youth. It calls for a culture of mutual respect among students. Governments, NGOs, schools, colleges, educational institutions, education ministries, civil organisations and parents are stakeholders in this mix.
International Day against Violence and Bullying At School also aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, specially SDG 4 (education for all) and SDG 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies).

Global campaigns to end cyberbullying

International Day against Violence and Bullying At School is the result of the five-year campaign called Safe to Learn. The campaign strives to create a free and safe learning environment for students so they can thrive. Ending violence is a big part of the goal. Another tie-in is UNESCO’s membership in the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children. UNESCO said at the World Anti-Bullying Forum that although cyberbullying occurs outside of the place of education, the educators and school community have a major role to play in preventing this dangerous practice.
Microsoft has come up with the Digital Civility Index, which asks internet users to live by positive tenets. Another global campaign, Power of Zero, is trying to build digital civility skills among young children so that they grow up to be responsible internet users who promote a culture of positivity.
Cyberbullying is another undesirable outcome of the anonymity that the online world permits. Let’s nip this monster in the bud before it harms more young people.