By Kirk Winter

I must freely admit that I am not a big fan of computers and their spawn. I use them because I have to, not because I want to.

We had a landline until six month ago, my computer is largely for word processing and my cell phone is for texting my wife and children. I would rather talk to a person face to face and read a book with real pages and a cover.

I know I am a dinosaur, but because of it I have escaped the scourge of cyber bullying that is destroying uncounted young lives as we speak.

Cyber bullying is defined by the RCMP as “the use of communications technologies such as the Internet, social networking sites, websites, e-mail, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.”

Statistics Canada in 2016 reported that 20 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 were being cyber bullied. Among the LGBTQ community that number rose to 33 percent. Forty-one percent of the individuals who reported being cyber bullied shared they were now dealing with emotional, psychological or health related issues because of the bullying. Forty percent reported having low levels of trust in people after these incidents of bullying occurred.

Examples of cyber bullying include:

  • Sending mean or threatening e-mail

  • Posting embarrassing pictures of someone online

  • Creating a website to make fun of others

  • Pretending to be someone by using their name

  • Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others

“Old school” bullying used to end at the end of the school day when the bully and the bullied parted ways. Cyber bullying follows the victim 24/7. Bullying no longer ends at school. Bullying can now follow them home to a place that was once safe from that behavior.

Take a look next time you are out and about how many young children have phones. There is not a single academic study currently existing to suggest that cell phone usage before the age of 14 has any positive outcome for the user. Most teachers will tell you that cell phone use now begins in the primary grades.

A 2016 Statistics Canada report indicated that by the age of 15, 94 percent of children have a Facebook/Instagram account and 87 percent have their own cell phone. The bully has easy access through either platform.

I am sure that well-meaning parents bought these devices for their children for a variety of reasons, but as parents we have now provided the bully with easier access to our children’s lives.

Most parents admit to the RCMP that they have little idea who their children are communicating with via the various social platforms they manipulate with considerable skill.

Only after something goes very wrong in a child’s life and charges like criminal harassment, possession of child pornography and defamatory libel are laid by the police do parents finally truly understand the digital world that their children inhabit.

Police tell children who think they are being cyber bullied to do the following:

  • Walk away or leave the on-line conversation

  • Keep track of the bullying. Write it down or take screen shots of it.

  • Tell a trusted adult

Once involved parents are asked to:

  • Contact school officials if the bullying originates from an identifiable fellow student

  • Report unwanted text messages to your telephone service provider

  • Report on-line bullying to the appropriate media site being used

  • Help your child block the person from further communication

  • Call the police

As parents, we have ultimate responsibility for those devices being in our homes. In most cases we paid for them, and we are paying for the data plans. Some counselors suggest that parents need to have contracts with their children detailing the parent’s and child’s right to what is on the device and its usage. Microsoft has suggested that all phones be charged together overnight in a place only accessible to parents. Most bullying activity goes on in the wee small hours of the night when the bully’s parents are asleep too.

If our children are going to have unlimited online access, we as parents need to play a role in how and when it is used, and who are children are communicating with before we are dealing with the tragic consequences of cyber bullying gone wrong.