Cyberbullying is a new threat for children [ The Telegraph, by Angela Pertusini, 28/6/2011].

 Cyberbullying spreads through digital means such as text messages and social networking sites (picture posed by model) Photo: MBI / ALAMY

Cyberbullying spreads through digital means such as text messages and social networking sites (picture posed by model) Photo: MBI / ALAMY

It was halfway through her first year at secondary school that Georgia Woods started to be bullied. “I’d originally been really popular,” she says, recalling the events of three years ago, “but just after my 12th birthday, these girls started calling me stuck-up and a snob.” The name calling got worse, and gradually Georgia was ostracised by the rest of the class and eventually the whole school year group. But, as if that wasn’t bad enough, things were about to take an even more pernicious turn as the bullying went online.

“At first I didn’t know about it. My mum had let me join [the social networking site] Bebo as long as she held the password and updated my profile,” says Georgia. “She knew I had been having arguments with friends at school so she

clicked on one of the people on my wall and it went through to a page about how much everyone hated me. I felt really bad. I thought, ‘Why are they saying that?’ But finally I started to believe that what they said was true. The hardest bit was that I was so alone.”

Online petitions and endless vicious emails followed; Georgia became

withdrawn and stopped eating “because they kept calling me fat and ugly”. Things came to a head when she was away on a school trip and her parents decided to redecorate her bedroom. While moving the furniture around, they found a torn-out page from her diary in which she had detailed an attempt to hang herself.

Georgia had become another victim of cyberbullying, a way of humiliating, distressing and harassing a target using digital means. This can range from

bombarding them with threatening or insulting text messages and emails to more sophisticated means of intimidation: hacking into someone’s social network account and uploading false information on their profile (known as Facebook-raping or “fraping”) is common, as is setting up pages dedicated to a hate campaign against a particular person.

And Georgia certainly was not alone — the anti-bullying campaign group Beatbullying estimates that 30 per cent of 11-16 year-olds have been cyberbullied, and girls are more than twice as likely to be targeted than boys. Shockingly, since 2009, when the organisation set up a cyber-mentoring site to support and help those who had been cyberbullied, they have had a million young people contact them.

“Even children as young as nine or 10 have Facebook pages,” says Sherry Adhami, of Beatbullying. “We need to have early intervention and we need to understand that it isn’t just a schools issue. We need to educate the whole community about what happens.”

To those who have not experienced it, cyberbullying can sound less serious than other forms of bullying: it is not, for example, physical. Yet experts believe that it can be psychologically more insidious, as it is so persistent and leaves its targets without a safe haven.

“So many children are constantly connected to their peer group — they spend a lot of time on sites such as Facebook, they sleep with their mobiles under their pillow,” says Will Gardner, CEO of Childnet International, an organisation that aims to make the internet safer for children.

“A bully can reach their target 24/7 — victims cannot get away from it.”

Moreover, the target may not even know who is instigating the bullying. “The bully could be anonymous, which is very distressing,” says Gardner, “and the target may not know who else is in on the joke – who is laughing at it.”

The sheer reach of the internet also means that a bullying campaign can spread beyond a child’s immediate social group to people in other cities and other countries, adding to the feeling of isolation.

Childnet has produced a film — Let’s Fight it Together — that has been shown in schools to get across the effects that cyberbullying can have on its victims.

Surprisingly, Gardner says, cyberbullies aren’t always aware of the distress their actions can cause. “We do come across people saying, ‘It was just a joke, it didn’t mean anything,’ ” he says. “Technology is bringing us closer together but there is still a distance. I might send you something I think is very funny, but you don’t – and I can’t see your reaction.”

Surprisingly, this was the reaction of Georgia Woods’s tormentors. Never having come across cyberbullying before, Georgia’s parents were initially uncertain how to respond to events, other than to delete Georgia’s Bebo page. But her mother, Sarah-Jane, was galvanised into action when she found out about Georgia’s suicide attempt.

She contacted the school, who were very supportive, and arranged for Georgia to receive counselling through Beatbullying. Following an appearance on Newsround in which Georgia talked about being bullied, one of the girls involved approached her and said that she had no idea that what they were doing had upset her so much.

Remarkably, Georgia has become friends with five of the former bullies and she is now one of Beatbullying’s cyber-mentors, offering confidential support to other targets of bullying at school and online. “I think,” she says with astonishing magnanimity, “we needed to move forward. I don’t like to dwell on the negative.”

What to do

Targets should talk to someone — ideally a parent or teacher. Thanks to campaigns by Beatbullying and Childnet, among others, many schools are very well-informed about cyberbullying and will have policies in place to deal with it.

Keep the texts, emails and website addresses that are included in the bullying as, unlike other forms of bullying, they provide hard evidence of what has taken place and digital footprints that can link them to the perpetrators.

Report any abuse on a social networking site to the moderator – most sites have a “report” button to make this easy. Keep a log of any incidents.

Parents should discuss internet use with their children and gauge ways of working with them to keep them safe on the internet.

Childnet’s site has resources for schools, parents and children to encourage good digital citizenship. Beatbullying’s cyber-mentor site is

Expulsion threat for under-age Facebook users [The Sydney Morning Herald, by Ben Grubb, 25/6/2011].

A NSW school whose students participated in a Facebook site used for cyber-bullying has threatened to expel students under 13 who are using the social networking site.

In an email to parents the principal of Northern Beaches Christian School, Stephen Harris, warned that students registered on Facebook and under the social network’s age limit of 13 would have their enrolment reviewed.

Either children had lied about their age or their parents had helped them join Facebook, he said. ”Let me be very clear – it is an immense parenting mistake to allow for either to happen,” Mr Harris wrote in the email sent on Tuesday.

Yesterday the Herald reported that thousands of Sydney students from various schools had joined websites on which teenagers had been subjected to malicious sexual slander and cyber-bullying.


Kids Who Bully Often Get Poor Sleep [, 3/6/2011]

Poor sleep may be a factor in aggressive behavior among kids, according to new research that found that children who bully other kids are more likely to be sleepy during the day.

In the study, researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that children with conduct problems at school were twice as likely to have sleep-disordered breathing problems or daytime sleepiness as other children who reported adequate amounts of sleep.

“What this study does is raise the possibility that poor sleep, from whatever cause, can indeed play into bullying or other aggressive behaviors — a major problem that many schools are trying to address,” Louise O’Brien, assistant professor in the University of Michigan’s Sleep Disorders Center and the departments of neurology and oral and maxillofacial surgery, said in a university news release.

In examining elementary school students who had conduct problems, the researchers concluded that sleep-disordered breathing — problems that occur during sleep, including snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, where the airway collapses — could be the cause of their daytime sleepiness. Other reasons for kids’ fatigue, they noted, could include a disorganized home environment or too much stimulation from technology, such as televisions, cellphones or computers in the bedroom.

The study, published online May 26 in Sleep Medicine, suggested that although more research is needed on the link between sleepiness and conduct problems, efforts to reduce children’s daytime sleepiness could help eliminate a significant amount of bullying among kids.

“We know that the prefrontal cortex area of the brain is sensitive to sleep deprivation, and this area is also related to emotional control, decision making and social behavior,” O’Brien said. “So impairment in the prefrontal cortex may lead to aggression or disruptive behavior, delinquency or even substance abuse.”

“But the good news is that some of these behaviors can be improved,” she said. “Sleep-disordered breathing can be treated, and schools or parents can encourage kids to get more sleep.”

To improve children’s sleep quality, the researchers said, parents should:

  • Remove TVs, phones and computers from kids’ bedrooms.
  • Encourage children to get an adequate amount of uninterrupted sleep each night. That’s 11 to 13 hours a night for preschoolers and 10 to 11 hours nightly for school-aged kids.
  • Make getting enough sleep a household priority.