The pediatrician Ferrara: “The age of victims and bullies is increasingly decreasing”
Threats, insults, online pressures that can become a real nightmare and a real danger, at school and beyond. Cyberbullying grows together with the increasingly extended time spent on the web by young and very young people. According to Concy (National Cyberbullying Centre), one in four children in Italy between the ages of 11 and 17 has been involved in incidents online. “Compared to bullying, which has always existed, in the ‘digital’ phenomenon there is greater anger, aggression and lack of empathy. And the age is lowered: previously the bully was 14 to 16 years old. Now it starts already in primary school, between 7 and 8 years old“. The pediatrician Pietro Ferrara, representative of the Italian Society of Paediatrics (Sip) for abuse and mistreatment, recalled the data to Adnkronos Salute on the occasion of the World Day for Internet Safety (Safer Internet Day), which is celebrated today and which was established and promoted by the European Commission.
The cyberbully, explains the expert, “is very often a child or adolescent who carries out prevarications, often strengthened by the group of gregarious bullies (or passive bullies) who online are represented by all those who contribute to spreading the offences, discrimination or who simply, even just with a ‘like’, confirm the cyberbully in his behaviour”. On the web, Ferrara continues, “kids feel even stronger thinking that the internet guarantees them anonymity. The physical distance created by the screen reduces empathy, and therefore the ability to understand the victim’s state of mind, amplifying it the consequences. This form of bullying may be more elusive to adults, given the general greater technological competence of children compared to their parents.”
Reports to the postal police for crimes related to cyberbullying against minors – highlights Sip – have grown by 65% in two years. What is also worrying is the increasingly lower age of both the victims and the cyberbullies, just think that 70% of under 14s are present on social media.
The alarm bells
The main advice for parents is to “not get distracted” when the little ones use smartphones and tablets. “Too often mothers and fathers unknowingly leave smartphones and tablets in the hands of children, even small ones, used as ‘nannies’, peacemakers or playmates. It is a mistake to be avoided”, underlines Ferrara. The presence of an adult during use, in fact, “can facilitate the process of regulating emotions, helping to prevent cases of early bullying”. Then pay attention to some ‘spies’: “Children who do not feel empathy, do not know how to ask for help, have uncontrolled emotions, are at greater risk of developing offensive dynamics. Likewise, children who see violent content online (which they involuntarily land on by fiddling with mum and dad’s mobile phone) often are unable to distinguish between reality and fiction.”
In the case of adolescents, “abuse, in the era of social networks, risks becoming ‘viral’. Early intervention is therefore important, acting both on the victim and on the bully because they are both expressions, equal but opposite, of a profound emotional and relational distress”. The risk is also that of developing crises of anxiety, self-esteem, depression or antisocial behavior as adults. But there are some warning signs that can alert parents, such as mood swings, nervousness, irritability, but also depression, apathy and search for solitude; prolonged use or abuse of electronic devices with difficulty detaching, up to somatic disorders, such as weight loss (or excessive weight gain), headaches, sleep alterations, school concentration disorders.
“Parents represent a very important model from which children take the example from the early years of childhood; usually the behaviors experienced in the family are repeated in relationships with peers”, underlines Ferrara. Permissive parents, who “defend their children on every occasion and often without a valid reason, can encourage aggressive and arrogant attitudes towards their weaker companions. However, if parents are present and attentive, if they have a constant dialogue with their If they educate children to respect and welcome others and those who are different, if they help them pursue objectives, they often manage to keep them away from contexts that favor these aggressive attitudes”.