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In our digital world, the internet has opened countless opportunities for people of all ages, including children, to communicate, learn and enjoy themselves. However, it has also brought new challenges, one of which is cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

With the rapid development and spread of the internet and digitalisation, many classic functions have been transferred to the online space. We can now openly keep in touch with friends on the internet, and shop, pay bills, watch movies and so on online. Regrettably, ostracising, derision and threatening, which used to exist only face-to-face, have all found fertile ground in the online space.

Cyberbullying is in other words internet/online/electronic harassment. Bullying covers hostile, degrading behaviour, humiliation, deliberate mistreatment and being hurtful, which appears as a negative and often recurrent phenomenon in the life of the victim. When this occurs in the electronic world, via the internet, it is called cyberbullying, or internet/online/electronic harassment.

Cyberbullying in practice

It would take a long time to list all the forms cyberbullying appears in, but it commonly includes sending malicious messages, deliberate deception, anonymous calls, sending compromising images, misusing someone else’s identity, threats, exclusion and spreading lies.

According to UNICEF Hungary, 88% of children in Hungary aged between 10 and 18 years old have a social media profile, but internet usage is also frequently part of the everyday life of children under 10. Children have also been spending much more time online since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, thus the risk of cyberbullying has increased in recent years.

So is cyberbullying just like regular bullying, but online?

Not quite. In fact, it is often much worse. Classical bullying used to be confined mainly to school, so it ended outside the school gates. The victim did not usually have to face such ill-treatment in their free time, at weekends and during school holidays. But cyberbullying knows no boundaries. It is not confined to the school, either in space or in time, and can reach the victim 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

An important difference between traditional bullying and online harassment is that the latter is often anonymous, i.e. the bully is nameless and faceless. Because of this anonymity, cyberbullying is often more ruthless than its face-to-face form. Without a name, the tormentor can abuse the victim more intensely, and can say or send things to them that the bully would not dare to if their name and face were known. Furthermore, anonymity also provides an opportunity for those who would not dare to confront and bully others face-to-face.

The effect and signs of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying often weighs on children more than traditional bullying because it is much harder to escape from. As with other forms of ill-treatment, it can cause low spirits, loss of self-confidence and anxiety. Children may feel that they can no longer lead a normal life as a result of harassment, and may experience isolation and a decline in school performance. In the long term, cyberbullying can be detrimental to health, causing physical symptoms and mental illness, and, in the end, victims may even turn against themselves, so it is clearly essential to take action against all forms of abuse.

Prevention is important

The primary and most important tool parents have is open communication and discussion. We should not only ask children about how school and training went, but also talk to them about their use of the internet and their experiences online, both positive and negative. It is important that children feel they have someone to turn to if they have a problem, someone they can share anything with.

Adults need to accept that the internet is becoming an integral part of everyday life. Cutting off internet access for children will not stop cyberbullying as the root of the problem lies not with the victim, but with the bully.

Making children understand that cyberbullying and harassing others is not cool and not acceptable is essential both for their own moral development and the well-being of potential victims. Children need to learn to treat others with respect, both online and offline, and this can be encouraged by setting an example for them through our own behaviour. It is important to make them understand what cyberbullying is and what the consequences and effects are for the victims. Children’s empathy should be developed. If they feel and understand the negative emotional effects of bullying, they are less likely to end up becoming bullies themselves.

If, however, cyberbullying does occur

If a child becomes a victim of cyberbullying, they should be encouraged to be bold and talk about their problems and experiences. It is important that they feel they have someone to turn to and that they can work with others to find a solution to the problem together.

Bullies often take out their own pent-up frustration on the victim. It should be emphasised to children that, if they do not feel comfortable and safe when communicating online, simply ignoring the other party is fine. Responding to a bullying message often just adds fuel to the fire and emboldens the tormentor to continue bullying.

It must be remembered that prevention and consistent action against bullying is not a one-off effort but a long process.

16. 11. 2023