India Has the Highest Rates of Cyberbullying Among Children, According to a Survey of Parents
A survey conducted in 28 countries by the UK-based consumer tech review firm, Comparitech, has revealed an increasing number of parents say their children are experiencing some form of cyberbullying. And parents in India report the highest rates, with 37% of them saying a child has experienced online bullying at least once.
In fact, even in previous surveys conducted in 2011 and 2016, India was the leader in parent-reported cyberbullying.
There are many flaws with this survey. For instance, the report did not give a specific definition of cyberbullying, which, along with the term cyberharassment, can refer to a broad range of intimidating tactics by peers — from spreading rumors, to stalking — via electronic means. For example, it can come in the form of instant or text messages, where children gang up on the victim, or bullies might steal others’ passwords to impersonate the victim in order to embarrass them. Children may also set up blogs to insult others or put up problematic pictures. Interactive gaming devices is also one of the most common ways for children to get bullied, where they verbally abuse and threaten each other. The study also relied on parent-reporting, which may be flawed; who knows if parents are defining cyberbullying in the same way as kids?
The report also did not delve into why cyberbullying might be more prevalent in India, but “one reason to explain this increase could be that the country is getting more internet connections, and faster, than any other place in the world,” says Sonali Patankar of Responsible Netism, a cyber security agency.
Still, the effects of cyberbullying on children aren’t great, and any insight into the state of online threats to children has to be welcome. Cyberbullying can damage kids’ self-confidence, make them feel isolated or depressed, and generally decrease their long-term well-being. Yet, online threats to children typically only make headlines when they pose a risk to children’s lives — take, for example, the Blue Whale Challenge, Momo Challenge and other viral ‘suicide challenge games.’
Increasingly aware that cyberbullying is a common experience, schools and parents across India are looking for ways to protect children online. On 24 October, many private schools across Gurugram and NCR asked parents to sign an undertaking to keep a watch on their children’s online activities. They also asked parents not to give mobile phones to children. High school children who may already have mobile phones are required hand over their phones to teachers during school hours. Many schools are also training students in cyber etiquette and teaching them how to watch out for online threats.
For parents, says Patankar, a big part of protecting kids comes down to being cyber literate themselves. “The second step would be to be accessible to your children in terms of comfort, to create a space where they can come and discuss everything that made them feel uncomfortable, threatened or low,” adds Patankar. She also suggested approaching the school and any counselors there to support a child who is being bullied, or raise the issue with the one who is bullying. “And if you get complaints or find out that your child has been bullying others, sit them down and ask why, or what is the urge to bully others, to get to the root of the problem,” says Patankar.