“Mean girls get meaner online,” (Mail & Guardian, 21/01/2010, p.23) was selected as a Glad for bringing awareness to a pertinent issue – cyberbullying, facing many of South Africa’s young pupils, particularly teenagers, as they go back to school.
The article explored how ubiquitous social networks “seem” to fuel bullying in schools as, for example, learners engage in name-calling on these online forums, which can lead to fights on the school grounds.
The journalist, Nechama Brodie, interviewed a 14-year-old girl who gave examples of incidents of physical violence, which shockingly occurred within the first three days of her school reopening in northern Johannesburg. She was given a pseudonym (Lisa).This should be commended as it protected the child from possible ramifications.
A psychologist, who unpacked the term ‘social bullying’ and how technology has influenced the way children behave, was also accessed in the article. “The need to belong is part of normal teenage angst. But technology has moved this into the realm of social networking and the difference is its reach,” she explained.
According to the psychologist, teenagers nowadays, struggle to interact socially because they are used to connecting with people online. The journalist also accessed researchers who found that “while teenage brains are able to learn and retain information faster than those of adults, it also means that there is often a gap between coming up with a new idea and working out whether or not it is actually a good one.” The article expressed how this is a critical issue, considering how quickly a teenager – due to an “instant online life” – can disseminate information and footage.
This was clearly demonstrated through an example provided by the journalist of the highly reported and alleged raped which occurred last year and was filmed and distributed by pupils at Jules High School. It was also highlighted in a statement by Lisa who claimed “a lot of girls send boys naked pictures of themselves – they’ll send it to all their friends’ boyfriends.”
Useful tips for parents were provided in the article. These were tips on what parents can teach their children in order to prevent cyberbullying and what they can do if they suspect their child is being bullied, online or otherwise. Sources and useful websites were also provided. Supplying the reader with this information should also be commended as it is empowering and leads to active and informed citizens.
Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) congratulates Mail & Guardian for an educational piece that certainly calls for all of us to focus our attention on issues facing teenagers today.
We look forward to more pieces dealing with issues facing children.