A student poses for a picture taken for the campus news site npTribune to illustrate cyberbullying on 20 May 2006. Photo: Wen Tong Neo (CC BY 2.0)
Cyberbullying, the repeated victimisation of someone through online platforms and digital media, has transformed the nature of bullying in multiple ways: it is pervasive, provides anonymity, and encroaches on personal space to a whole new extent. And it is more common in the grand duchy than you might think.
One in ten individuals between the ages of 12 and 24 has been victim of online harassment, while 4% admit to being subject to regular bullying, according to a recent study by Georges Steffgen, a professor at the University of Luxembourg.
On- and offline worlds are not as clearly separated as older generations might think. Rather, they bleed into each other, which can make the bullying relentless. Cyberbullying negates the concept of a safe space; a key aspect that renders the victim feeling increasingly threatened. Furthermore, signs and symptoms are not necessarily physiological. What there is, however, is a proliferation of messages, photos and videos for all to see, and those are difficult to erase.
Two organisations aim to support youngsters. “The online Bee Secure Helpline provides more of a guide to online problems, such as hacked Facebook accounts, blocking offenders, online security and sexting or grooming situations,” says Aline Hartz, a psychologist at Kanner-Jugendtelefon (KJT), which runs an anonymous online helpline in English and other languages. “The KJT platform provides more psychological support. We refer individuals between the services according to their needs. We guarantee 100% anonymity and confidentiality.”
The two groups work in tandem. Bee Secure visits primary and secondary schools to teach students about the dangers of the digital universe. Lessons focus on securing personal information and the problems with uploading potentially incriminating photos, videos and other details about private and intimate affairs. In the case of active incidents of bullying, they highlight the structures of support available. Individuals are encouraged to record, report and lastly, not to react or retaliate. However, these lessons are limited to two hours a year.
This year KJT launched a campaign--that included its Bod cartoon postcard series, distributed in English language schools--to raise awareness of cyberbullying and promote its confidential support services.
Communication with children isn’t always easy, especially with those in need, so family members and friends should keep their ears open and be aware of the symptoms. These include an unexplained drop in marks, signs of withdrawal and of distress, and anxiety at the buzz of a message arriving.
Bullying is not a modern practice. “Unfortunately, young people are incredibly innovative and creative when it comes to finding new means to bully someone,” notes Georges Knell, another KJT psychologist, “so it makes little sense to ban the medium.” The best way to limit the impact and prevalence of bullying is to focus on prevention, awareness and support services, he advises. Remind the individual of their strengths, and restore some of the control that is taken during the bullying process. Be open and sympathetic, and remind them that they are so much more than a “victim”.