When 13-year-old Monique Mastrobattista came home from her new school at Albert Park College in Melbourne with a worrying stutter, her mother immediately knew something was wrong.
As a growing number of parents in Australia have also felt, Jackie Mastrobattista thought her daughter was being cyberbullied.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Ms Mastrobattista said.
“When you see your child like that… the anxiety had just taken over.
“I was heartbroken.
“It is the most horrendous thing I have ever seen.”
A couple of days before Monique had shared a picture of her broken nose on Snapchat when her classmates screen shot it and made fun of her.
Serious cyberbullying led to a 36 per cent increase in complaints over the year to date to the Office of the eSafety Commisioner, who deals with online safety in Australia. In 2017/18 the office received 304 complaints at a national level compared to 224 the year before.
ESafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said acute cyberbullying was the primary reason why the office was established in 2015.
“We must all step up to support young Australians to combat cyberbullying,” Ms Inman Grant said.
The organisation works with social media platforms to remove bullying content posted online as well as referring criminal offences to the police. It also advocates for schools, parents and children.
Complaints to the office have included ’nasty comments and serious name calling’ – some which incited suicide or self-harm like ‘get yourself a coffin’ or ‘you’d better go and kill yourself’.
Other times the children received unwanted contact on social media or had their social media accounts hacked.
Since established in July 2015 the office has served as a safety net for about 800 young Australians.
The commissioner said the office experienced “heightened awareness around the issue of cyberbullying in Australia”.
”We know that one in five young Australians aged 8–17 have experienced cyberbullying,” Ms Inman Grant said.
“As technology continues to play an increasingly persistent role in young people’s lives, the number of young people experiencing cyberbullying may also grow.”
The commissioner said the fast-paced digital world could be daunting for time-poor parents.
“Even so they play a crucial role in keeping their children safe online,” she said.
“The parents should engage in their children’s online lives and set ground rules for technology use and instilling values of respect, empathy and consent in the home.”
According to the office’s research only half of the young people told their parents when they had a negative experience online.
Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Education Professor Marilyn Campbell said parents had not been raised with the internet and often didn’t know how to help their cyberbullied children.
“They keep differentiating between face to face-bullying and cyberbullying but they have to understand it is a combined phenomena,” Professor Campbell said.
“In cases of victimisation the students often develop anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem and often don’t want to go to school.”
According to Professor Campbell’s research, changes in adult behaviour could help to reduce cyberbullying.
“As a society we have to put an end to domestic violence and bullying at workplaces,” Professor Campbell said.
“Once the adults show respect in relationships and kindness to each other, bullying could reduce in young people.”
When Monique, now 15, was cyberbullied in 2016 her mother didn’t contact the eSafety Office or try to solve bullying at her work place. She went straight to Google.
“I didn’t know what to do but I thought my daughter needed help ASAP,” Mrs Mastrobattista said.
“So I Googled ‘child psychologist’ straight away.
“As you stand there you are thinking about a lot of young children that don’t pull through, they commit suicide.
“I think it is every parent’s fright.
“I was aware it could happen and that was my biggest fear.”
Mrs Mastrobattista pulled her daughter out of her class in order to give her home-schooling. A psychologist helped Monique to overcome her depression and anxiety from the incident.
Slowly, Monique began to talk. Now she raises her voice publicly to stop cyberbullying.
In 2016 she published the book My Discreet Bully. With 17,9000 followers on Instagram she is a so-called ‘influencer’ who raised awareness of cyberbullying through her campaign “#Getkind”.
“She is in a good place now and I am so proud of her,” Mrs Mastrobattista said.
If you, or anyone you know, need help call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1800 273 8255.
If your child is being cyberbullied, parents should:
- Stay calm and listen to what your child is telling you – let them know you will help them through this.
- Ask them how they would like the situation to be handled. We suggest collecting evidence of the cyberbullying and reporting it to the social media service.
- If the material is not removed within 48 hours, report it to esafety.gov.au and we will advocate on your child’s behalf to the social media service to remove the content.
- If the issue is stemming from school ask your child if it’s ok if you contact the school to help get it resolved that way – schools should have policies on how to handle this so check with the teacher or Principal.
Source: The Office of the eSafety Commissioner