Researcher seeking help from parents over bullying

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:00 16/06/2014

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Parents can feel completely helpless when they discover their child is suffering cyber-bullying, but a Victoria University researcher hopes to find some answers.

Master's student Tegan Lynch is seeking Wellington parents' experiences with and reactions to their child being bullied online, through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as well as harassment on cellphones. About one in five New Zealand teens are subject to online harassment.

But parents' thoughts on what went wrong - as well as what went right - will help Lynch and other researchers to develop more effective anti-bullying programmes, she said.

Her online survey had been open for a few weeks, and Lynch will collate the results once it closed at the end of July.

Today's parents had no personal experience of cyber-bullying to draw on when their kids suffer from it. Unlike previous generations, the reach of the internet meant victims now had fewer safe spaces, she said.

"Now it's relentless - you could often be bullied at home, at work, anywhere. And it could be all the time.

"There's also anonymity in cyber-bullying, which is frightening . . . But when it comes down to it, it is just a different medium.

"A lot of the research is showing people who are being cyber-bullied are also experiencing different forms of bullying already."

The study follows on from other research into parents' responses into all forms of victimisation.

It found families often felt useless and powerless, even if there were solutions available, like contacting the school. From the responses Lynch had so far, she expected cyber-bullying exacerbated the feelings of helplessness.

"If it's anonymous, you would have nothing to do except support your child," she said.

"My research will find out what parents actually do - where they go for support, whether it's the school or what, if there are people who access help through their internet service provider.

"And where they wanted support and couldn't access it."

The results could be particularly relevant for the legislation aimed at cyber-bullying currently before Parliament, flowing from recommendations by the coroner.

It aimed to make menacing, offensive or suicide-inciting messages or social media posts an offence, punishable by fines or jail time.

- For more information or to complete the survey, click here.

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