The answer to cyberbullying? Fresh air

Cyberbullying is apparently on the rise. It’s hard enough being taunted in the playground, now kids have to deal with being teased online, too.

The boundaries between reality and the virtual world are becoming blurred, with many young people obsessing over cultivating the perfect online image of themselves. Panics about body image go hand-in-hand with concerns about cyberbullying. The anonymity of the internet, and the absence of adult supervision, can provide a space for careless and nasty behaviour between inexperienced young people to flourish.

Following a number of suicides and a reported 40 per cent rise in cyberbullying in UK schools over the past 12 months, some are understandably worried about the effect social media is having on children. Campaigners have demanded that social-media companies and internet providers take action to further regulate what can and cannot be said online. This has led Facebook and Snapchat, in partnership with Childline, to offer direct support for young people who report cyberbullying. The problems now associated with social media are demanding ever greater vigilance from parents, schools and regulators.

But regulation won’t solve any of these problems. Children need boundaries, but they also need the space to sometimes be free from watchful eyes. The desire to micromanage every aspect of children’s lives will only damage them further, creating a risk-averse generation of young people unable to stand on their own two feet.

Parents who stop their children from staring at a screen and shove them outside have probably got the right idea. In the real world, kids can explore real social situations. Instead of hiding behind screens, they’re responsible for their actions. When they’re mean to one another, they get to see up close the consequences their actions can have.

Children shouldn’t be micromanaged by their parents, and we certainly don’t need social-media platforms doing the job of parenting for us. While we should recognise that cyberbullying is a problem, most of it is nothing a bit of resilience won’t solve. Instead of fretting about the online world, it’s time to get back to basics, and kick kids off the computer every now and then.

Christopher Beckett is a writer and researcher working in the education sector. Read his blog.

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