Confronting virtual harassment Confronting virtual harassment

Cyber harassment is a harmful combination and is usually anonymous. Parents must promote dialogue about the interactions of their children on the Web.

Medical advisor Nover Ruiz, psychologist and ethics professor

An assault or annoyance received through the Internet or on Social Media may be equivalent to a physical attack received on the street or to an impact from a rock hurled by a stranger. There is no one to ask for an explanation, there is confusion, and nevertheless, the pain is there in the place receiving the impact. That is how cyberbullying or cyberharassment is understood. It is an impact, an insult, a threat, even blackmail. The difference is that it is delivered on the Web, that is, in a virtual manner. Likewise, harassment may come disguised as fear as in the case of Momo Challenge, a figure with bloodshot eyes, black hair and an immense slim mouth whose name alludes to the Greek god of sarcasm and mockery, a dangerous virtual challenge that incites minors into taking their own lives.

The emissary can be an adult or a classmate. The receptor is usually a minor who has access to a computer, to social media or any intelligent cell phone. Different from harassment experienced face to face, this type of harassment can reach another city or country. It can be delivered in the early hours of the morning. If the author so wishes it can remain and be shared through messages on the cell phone. For example, if a child is insulted during recess at school, the episode could end when he gets back to the classroom, when the affected child speaks to the teacher, the psychologist or the coordinator of the area so that pertinent measures can be taken. Contrariwise, when happens on the social networks, the mockery or insult become a commentary visible to dozens of individuals.

Dialogue and Emotional Balance

Nover Ruiz is a Professor of Ethics and Coordinator of the Unidos por la Diferencia [Joined by Difference (TN)] of the Theodoro Herzl School. He was awarded second prize in the Santillana Prize on educational experiences in 2012 for his initiatives in prevention of bullying oriented to “improving cohabitation among children and youngsters both inside and outside the school, identifying situations, bringing awareness and generating space for introspection.”

The professor who has studies in Psychology and analyzes this issue on a permanent basis indicates that “by being on the networks, the mistreatment becomes permanent; a circumstance that does not disappear and that makes the situation ever more difficult. In relation to the authors of these assaults, in many cases they are youngsters who are old enough to attend school and with difficulties in their social abilities, in communicating skills or in establishing relations. Some of them acquire power through this anonymity provided by the Web. Each case is different and that is why it is difficult to generalize,” the professor explains. “The perpetrators of the harassment,” he adds “have come under mistreatment in their family group and seek to replicate what they have lived passing from victims to victimizers.”

For this professional, the best way to prevent cyberbullying is by promoting dialogue and communication between parents, children and teachers. “The most effective way of preventing this from happening and remaining is to promote a conversation. In that conversation they explain to the child what is good, what he should be attentive to, and also parents are cautioned about observing when the child closes in on himself and does not want to speak or express his feelings. It will also allow us to know what type of friends he has on the social networks, who he communicates with and will provide guidelines of how to divert his fear in the face of figures such as Momo and the Blue Whale,” says the specialist.

In addition, these conversations engage in issues dealing with the way one sees power, the position of the child towards the idea of other’s weakness, family dynamics or the ways in which the child seeks to find security or feel strong and powerful.

Asking questions, listening to what the child or the students think, approaching them in a real and effective way, establishing who is feeling scared, whether they are being harassed or whether they behave inappropriately towards others is fundamental to comprehending the situation. It is important to understand that scolding only widens the gap between parents and child and can even stop communication from flowing. The Professor also mentions the existence of protective applications for parental guidance such as Qustodio (www.qustodio.com) that offers parents the ability to follow-up the activity of their children on the Internet and promotes the search for a joint solution in the face of a specific situation.

Understanding the Language

The following terms help to better understand the practices carried out in the virtual universe with its realities and its threats:

  • Sexting: is the combination of the word “sex” and “text”. It refers to messages sent through the social media or the cell phone whose contents are mainly sexual. According to a study published in 2018 by the JAMA Pediatrics Review based on several investigations, it is a manner of communication above all by youngsters 15 years of age around 47% of who are male.
  • Grooming: is the desire of the adult to establish a friendship with a child to obtain sexual satisfaction by sending erotic or pornographic images. In many cases, the request for sending these images is sent to the cell phone of the social networks. According to a report in the Análisis del Cibercrimen Review published by the Direction of Judicial Investigation of the Police between 2017 and 2018 reports of this situation were filed by parents on a daily basis.
  • Cyberdating: consists in setting up a date on a virtual space, such as a chat, instead of in a physical space.
  • Stalk: Stalker is the figure that watches another in an obsessive manner in the virtual world. Stalk is the activity of this obsessive watching and follow-up.
  • Bully: Is usually known as the person who harasses. He is generally the author of the harassment.
  • Bullying: is the assault or annoyance directed at a person in a physical space.
  • Cyberbullying: is the harassment that occurs on the Internet.

See also: School bullying is not a children’s story