Calls to stay switched on to impact of cyberbullies

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 08:00 17/11/2012

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Digital technology that lets young people be "switched on" at all hours is playing a role in teenage suicides as parents find themselves locked out of their child's cyberworld.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean told school guidance counsellors via video link at a conference in Palmerston North yesterday that interaction that once happened face-to-face was now happening via text or online - late at night and out of parents' sight.

"One of the things that concerns me as a trend - which links in with the cyberbullying issue - is that kids are [receiving] messages late at night. Nasty messages sometimes. Sometimes malicious, almost suicide-pact-type messages, and we have seen some very distressing cases."

Social media "confessionals" revealing teenagers' secrets, anonymous Facebook pages set up to attack peers, nude pictures being posted publicly, and online comments encouraging a pupil to commit suicide were all real issues confronting New Zealand secondary school pupils, counsellors reported.

Teenage brains struggled to deal with the effects of faceless communication - whether it was cyberbullying via social media, or a relationship ended by text, Judge MacLean said.

"It is just incredible, that flow of information going into young brains, particularly late at night when they are alone.

"They are unsupported, and their parents are unaware of what is going on.

"That is the sort of environment in which these thoughts start to fester and sometimes have an unfortunate outcome."

Suicide statistics made public by Judge MacLean earlier this year revealed that in the year to June 30, 547 New Zealanders killed themselves. Ninety-two were aged 19 or under, and 12 were under 15.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has ordered the Law Commission to fast-track work on new laws set to crack down on cyberbullies.

The Law Commission has drafted proposals to stop the publication of intimate photographs, malicious impersonations and inciting suicide on the internet.

Media reporting of suicide is under review, due to fears that too much attention to individual cases could spark copycat attempts.

Netsafe operations manager Lee Chisholm told the school counsellors that as internet-capable smart phones proliferated, teenagers' use of social media became near impossible to monitor.

"We can't lock down the internet," Mrs Chisholm said. "It is everywhere. It's on their phones, it's on their PlayStations, their Xboxes, their Wiis and their iPod Touches. You can't just filter it."

Banning technology was the wrong approach for parents and teachers to deal with cyberbullying.

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Cybersafety expert John Parsons said education on dealing with cyberbullying should begin at home.

"It is up to the community. Cyberabuse is not a school problem, it is a community problem. If we shift the burden to schools to deal with this problem, we will fall short."

NEED HELP?

Call Youthline 0800 376 633 or Lifeline on 0800 543 354. If you're seriously concerned about someone's immediate safety, call 111. If you or someone you know is experiencing online interaction you think is harmful, visit netsafe.org.nz for free advice.

- Manawatu Standard

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