It's been all over the news today. In fact, it's been all over the news for a few weeks now. And, in my opinion, it should be over the news everyday. What is "it"? The power of social media, websites, the internet!
Today was the funeral of 14-year-old Hannah Smith. She was a victim of cyber-bullying. Watching the news report today, I had tears in my eyes. For Hannah, for her parents, for her family, for victims everywhere. It brought back memories of watching the Amanda Todd video, where she holds cards up describing what had happened and what she was feeling not long before she committed suicide aged 16. Watching that video had me in tears for hours. It was so emotional, and I had hoped that it had a happy ending, It didn't.
It is said that every human, at one point in their life, goes through some sort of bullying. In the playground, in the park, on the way home from school, at work - it doesn't matter what age or location - bullying HURTS! Maybe if you've never been a victim of bullying, have you been the bully? Making fun of someone because they are "different"? Pushing someone over in the playground because they weren't your friend? Maybe even just calling someone names? It's all bullying, and it all hurts the person it's happening to!
I was bullied as a child. Called names because I never had the Nike trainers or the Adidas tracksuit! My hair was pulled because I had it in a french plait and the girl who did it was jealous! I was even kicked in the back on my way home from high school because one girl didn't like that I walked home the same way as her. I was quite timid as a child, so never stood up for myself. Maybe that was why I was picked on? Who knows! I look back at it now and think "At least while they were targeting me, they left someone else alone."
The difference from back then, I'm 29 now so do the math ;), is now the "tools" available for bullies.
Back in 1991 - the first incident of bullying (french plait girl), there was no internet. No screen for her to hide behind, no Facebook to spread vicious rumours. I'm not saying that she would have, but who knows! She bullied me right through until she left high school age 14 - I don't even know the reason she left, but still felt sorry for her, after everything she had put me through!
Today we have some amazing technology at our fingertips. We have computers and laptops to access web pages and messengers. Common messengers such as MSN, Skype, Yahoo and the like. IPads that you can use to "Facetime" with others - basically video chat! Blackberry messenger - does the same as MSN and Yahoo but through the phone. To be honest, I have no idea just how many of these things exist! I do use Facetime, nothing like seeing your nieces and nephews face on there, or relatives that live half-way across the world, but that's pretty much it!
I've noticed an influx of children using Skype to talk to their friends - gone are the days that kids meet in the park or town to catch up on gossip. Now they do it all online.
I'm actually worried. Worried for the day that C or T ask if they can use the iPad to Facetime one of their friends, or if they can sign up to Skype so they can use it, like many other kids. Why am I worried? Because I know what people can be capable of. We've seen it in the news this week! I don't want to be the mum that's "boring" because I won't allow them, or the "mean" mum because I insist on sitting by their side whilst they Skype or Facetime so I can check they are (1) behaving and (2) being nice to others.
That's a dilemma for parents. Yet, do all parents understand what goes on? I highly doubt it! Come on, admit it, how many of you would know how to use the parental controls on your PC or laptop? How many of you understand Skype, the messengers, or even know what your kids do when they go on their phones or iPods? In fact, anything that can connect to the internet? My mother wouldn't have a clue, and she's not that old!
As more and more kids are using the internet, I feel that parents need to be educated in how to use it and make it safe for their kids!
Back to Hannah's story. The last few weeks she's been in the news, for the wrong reasons. It's been reported that she was bullied on Ask.Fm - a site I've never used but have heard of. You sign up and then can ask questions, anonymously, to pretty much anyone on the site. Kids share their question page to their facebook or twitter accounts so their friends can ask them questions without their identity being known. Just having a browse at what type of questions being asked is quite horrifying!
I clicked on a random picture at the bottom of the page where it says "See who's here" - straight away, the last question she was asked shocks me and sends shivers down my spine! I'm actually appalled that someone would ask anyone this question online, yet here they are asking a 13-year-old what she's like in bed. And she answers them! I mean, wow, I cannot even explain how I feel! I'm so shocked. Why are these sites allowed?
But people are quick to blame the sites. Yes, they should have rules that members should stick to, and if they don't they will be dealt with accordingly. I think there should be a minimum age limit of at least 16 for any social media page - Facebook, twitter, Ask.Fm whatever! I understand that's hard to police, but it could be done! I have read a few times this week that Ask.Fm will be doing an audit on it's site and the safety features, which has come a little too late in my opinion, but are they to take 100% of the blame? I mean, someone sat in front of a screen is actually guilty of typing those questions, comments, the bullying! Yet, I've heard nothing about them being sought.
How easy is it to type something. I hate the colour black! There, I just wrote something horrible. It might not offend you but if the colour black had feelings I'm sure it would be pretty upset right now. (I don't actually hate the colour black by the way!) That's how easy it is to type it. And on a messenger, forum, social network, once you've typed it - that's it. It's out there. Yes, you can delete it, but how many people have seen it?
What can we do?
The fight against bullying is an on-going one. It has been for years and probably will be for years to come. I'm scared about what my children could go through, I worry about what is said to the girls in school, and now J starts in September, my worry will only increase! I just hope that I've brought them up well enough for them to feel safe enough to tell me if anything is wrong. I hope that if they start to use these sites or messengers, they will feel safe knowing that they can tell me anything. But it doesn't stop me from worrying.
I guess that's just what being a parent is.
R.I.P. Hannah, Amanda, and everyone who has been bullied and not strong enough to beat them. May you all be at peace now.
For information about bullying see http://www.beatbullying.org/ and http://www.bullying.co.uk/
Thanks for taking the time to read and again I apologise if I caused any offence. It truly wasn't meant.