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Saudi Arabia study reveals most parents feel their child is at risk of cyberbullies

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A study of more than 1,200 parents across Saudi Arabia has found that more than half felt their children were at risk of being cyberbullied by their peers.

In the study, ‘Parents’ perception of cyberbullying of their children in Saudi Arabia’, published in the Journal of Family and Community Medicine, the authors, from the Faculty of Medicine at King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah, quizzed 1249 parents in the Kingdom about parents’ awareness and perception of cyberbullying of their children.

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Parents were asked about cyberbullying and its association with the school; the difference between cyberbullying and traditional bullying; the importance of parents’ attention and their knowledge of cyberbullying, and the platform on which they think cyberbullying occurs.

It found that 36 percent agreed, with a further 26 percent strongly agreeing that cyberbullying was a problem at their children’s school.

Of those asked, the vast majority felt cyberbullying outside of school was a problem too, with 56 percent of parents agreeing, and 32 percent strongly agreeing.

The overwhelming majority of the participants thought that video games, Snapchat and Twitter were the most common social platforms on which cyberbullying occurred, respectively. Almost two thirds (63.6 percent), had learned of cyberbullying from the news on radio or TV, 38.6 percent learned about cyberbullying from their children, and 52.6 percent had done some research on cyberbullying. Only 2.7 percent were informed about cyberbullying from the child’s school.

Most of the participants (73.7 percent) saw that there were issues when a young person was cyberbullied, and about 43 percent of parents strongly agreed that cyberbullying was more harmful than bullying in the schoolyard.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the impact of cyberbullying ranges from small distress levels to severe psychological and social problems. (File photo: AP)
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the impact of cyberbullying ranges from small distress levels to severe psychological and social problems. (File photo: AP)

However just half of parents (53 percent) said they had discussed cyberbullying with their child.

Lead author Sulhi al-Alfakeh said there needs to be more awareness of the harm of cyberbullying among parents.

“The effect of cyberbullying varies from the small levels of discomfort to serious psychological and social issues,” she said in the report. “Bullying is a significant common problem among children, especially in schools, that has possible effects on their mental health, self-esteem, and safety.

“In general, we found that parents were aware of cyberbullying, but had some misconceptions.”

“To our knowledge, parents underestimated the consequences of cyberbullying and the importance of monitoring and controlling their children’s online activities.”

“Parents are the most influential agents to children, playing a significant role in their children’s well-being and emotional development. A strong emotional bond between parents and children makes it possible for parents to be aware of a child’s desire to engage in criminal activity. Parent’s knowledge of their children’s online activities and experiences are essential to offering the best guidance and support.”

We, therefore, recommend that a comprehensive educational program, campaigns, and studies on cyberbullying and its possible consequences be done.”

UNICEF defines bullying as bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behavior, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media, and sending mean messages to others on their behalf.

In the Saudi study, about 64 percent parents strongly believed that cyberbullying caused psychological harm, and 78 percent responded that it was important to monitor the child’s use of the Internet.

Seventy-eight percent of parents strongly believed that schools should be proactive in addressing cyberbullying. As for the parents’ role, 72.8 percent strongly believed that parents should be more proactive in addressing cyberbullying, whereas 27.9 percent thought that parents’ involvement would reduce it.

Most participants (75.1 percent) said that more laws should be passed to prevent or punish cyberbullying.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, the impact of cyberbullying ranges from small distress levels to severe psychological and social problems such as a drop in grades, an increase in school absences, feeling of danger at school, mood disturbance (anxiety), and depression. In some extreme circumstances, unmonitored behaviors may lead victims to severe mental illness.

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