Published by Senator Mobina Jaffer on 11 May 2012
Last Monday, the Senate Human Rights Committee continued its study on cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is a relatively new phenomenon and is one that parents, teachers and policy makers often have difficulty understanding. This week our committee welcomed a number of witnesses who offered a diverse range of experience and knowledge on this complicated issue.
One testimony that I found to be particularly helpful was one that was offered by Dr. Faye Mishna who is a Dean and a Professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Mishna explained to our committee that young people today are what she called “digital natives” as they have never experienced a world without technology. She went on to further explain that adults, educators and parents are “digital immigrants” as technology is something that is new to most of us. Not only do young people acquire technological competence much faster than adults they use it far more frequently. In fact, Dr. Mishna stated that 98% of young people use communication technology every single day.
When our committee first started this study I quickly learned that the face of bullying had changed as it had moved from the classroom and the playground and into our homes by way of the Internet. Unlike with traditional bullying, cyber-bullying is much harder to escape, as young people are unable to seek refuge even in their own homes.
However, after hearing Dr. Mishna’s testimony I understood that cyber-bullying was bigger than even the Internet.
Like most parents, I often get into arguments with my nephews when I see them huddled around their blackberries at the dinner table. I rarely ever see them without their phones in hand. After hearing Dr. Mishna I realized that young people today can never truly escape cyber-bullying as it literally follows them wherever they go. However, like my nephews, most young people today can’t imagine life without their devices and as a result often don’t tell their parents when they fall victim to cyber-bullying because they fear that their parents will take their devices away from them in an effort to protect them.
Bullying has moved from our classrooms to the desktop computers we have in our homes and now into our hands. As adults, educators, parents and policy makers we must reach out to young people and let them know that they can speak to us about the challenges they are facing. We must coordinate our efforts and invest our time and resources in strategies of prevention and intervention. Most importantly, we must ensure that our young people are not left to handle these challenges alone.