Internet matters launch their #Pledge2talk campaign today, which is about getting the message out there about cyberbullying. Recognising that this kind of bullying is different to face to face bullying and helping us as parents, recognise it, learn about it and ultimately take action to stop it.
New research suggests that 1 in 5 parents say their child has received cruel comments online. And perhaps surprisingly 10% more boys has been bullied online about their appearance than girls.
I thought I was savvy about Internet safety and had told my son about the dangers of the Internet and quite frankly my advice, though good, was outdated and he still was a target for cyberbullies. I warned him about talking to strangers online, told him not to accept friend requests from people he doesn’t know or enter into games on xbox with strangers etc. But the problem was, the issues he faced were totally different, it was his online ‘friends’, boys from his school that he suffered at the hands of.
I have included his story below, and I urge all parents reading this to talk to your children. Make it something that is easily approached in the family so that if they do have any problems online, they can come to you and tell you. Conner came to me quite quickly about the bullying he was facing but other children may be bottling it all up. The picture below is a really good resource from the Internet Matters website should you find yourself having to support your child through this.
Conner is a nice boy, kind hearted and pleasant to people. Naively, I never thought that he would be a victim of bullying. I think we look at our babies and see the lovely characters they are and enjoy their good personality traits, we don’t even consider that they may be a target. Conner, like any other boy his age, was itching to connect with his friends on xbox live and we tried to leave it as long as possible before we made an account for him. He was 9 when he joined and for the most part, he has enjoyed it. Conner has been bullied at school for the past two years, in waves of severity and also periods where things seem to improve, we felt that allowing him an xbox live account would keep him on par with his peers.
Occasionally, Conner would receive negative comments online either over the chat feature in an xbox live party, or sometimes in a typed message. In all honesty at this point they were nothing more than silly comments from stropping boys because they haven’t won on a game. We paid no attention and Conner ignored the messages, they more often than not made friends again and all was forgotten.
Things started to change though when two boys from school started to play online with Conner, to begin with they would come into the game and destroy the buildings Conner had made in minecraft. If Conner would become upset they would call him a baby and mock him. I advised him to ignore it and to play on and try not to worry. It seemed extreme to tell him to block them and I still believed that it was just normal squabbles between boys thinking they were funny.
It progressed into written messages and they really were quite mean, telling Conner he was stupid, and that his buildings on minecraft were rubbish. He was really upset and we could tell that this was starting to knock his confidence. The bullying at school had also increased and he has being teased about the way he looked, being called fat, despite being a normal weight for his age and height, and made fun of for his appearance. It was then that things got the worst they had so far, despite ignoring these two boys, they then recorded voice messages and sent them to Conner.
“Why don’t you go back to f****ng school and learn how to spell”
“Yo Conner, you’re gay, guess what you never sent me a message cos you’re too pussy, wimp boy “
“Why aren’t you replying Conner, too stupid?”
“Conner, you’re such a pussy you are too scared to even reply”
“Actually Conner you’re so stupid anyway, you’re dumb as hell, I’m gonna smash your face mate, we know you didn’t answer them anyway”
“F**k off you little retard”
This is all voice recordings sent to Conner in the space of 10-15 minutes. We saved recordings of them and then blocked the boys. But obviously Conner had to face these kids in school, so it wasn’t over for him. My heart broke into a thousand pieces for him. Scared to go to school and even more scared that the school won’t take any action (based on previous incidents). You’d think given an incident as serious as this that we could work hand in hand with the school to tackle this vile bullying – wrong.
We took the recordings into the school and played them to the headteacher, fully expecting serious action to be taken. Whilst he sympathised with the situation, he made it very clear that as the incident happened outside of school it was not an issue for him to address. We were gutted that nobody seemed to be as concerned as we were, but unfortunately not surprised. We didn’t call the police because we felt that criminalising these boys wasn’t fair, but I do regret my decision not to. The reason for this is that the issues weren’t being addressed, Conner as a young boy of 10 at the time couldn’t carry the burden of standing up to the bullies, the school wouldn’t address it and the only power we had was the use of the block button.
I wish I could tell you that the story ended there and after blocking them we never had another issue but that isn’t the case. Conner made a youtube channel and starting filming tutorial videos and just having fun with it. The same boys discovered he was on there and commented on every single one of his videos.
“omg you’re bad”
“this is dumb”
“not judging tho haha”
Report. Delete. Block. For now Conner doesn’t receive any abuse from these boys but I am under no illusion that when he is older and uses other social media platforms, that we may have to block them, and possibly others too.
We use to say as kids “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” well, what a load of old tosh that is. Words hurt so much more than sticks and stones, they may break your bones but words break your spirit, grind down your confidence and ruin lives.