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Cyberbullying & Social Media Feedback Apps: What every Parent should know

In October of last year, my daughter turned 12.  A conversation which we’d previously had, popped up again: “Joining Snapchat”. At this stage my daughter was in the minority of kids in 5th & 6th class in her school who didn’t have a social media account.  

I spoke to my partner and we decided maybe a trial run would be fair to her. We felt if we put rules in place she was bright enough & mature enough to have her own account. We sat her down, had a chat about the dangers, told some stories and used some examples.  

We gave her our rules:

  • Don’t add anyone you don’t know. 
  • Don’t download anything without our consent. 
  • Respect yourself & others. 
  • Come to us if any form of bullying happens to you or others.  
  • If there is something you are unsure of, ask. 
  • Your phone will be checked at random. 

We were all happy. Everything had been covered and the account was opened. 

It was around Christmas when we started to notice a small few changes in my normally happy, confident, outgoing child. We checked in with her. She said everything was fine. We checked her phone, nothing! We put it down to puberty & hormones. 

At the start of February, I was listening to the radio, there was a discussion on kids & social media. It was through this talk I learned about Sarahah, an app linked up to snapchat that allows people to post things anonymously about you. It can be accessed through a web page so no visible icon will be seen on the phone.  I heard that it was an unhealthy and unsafe place for children, and had been used by bullies. I did a little research into it and I asked my daughter if she had heard of it, she said she hadn’t.   

Something just wasn’t right. My daughter was still out of sorts, spending more time in her room, emotional, not applying herself to school work as normal and had a lack of interest in anything. 

About a week later, on screening my daughters phone one evening, I went into her photos and an album of screenshots. What I found broke me. Dozens of screenshot messages from Sarahah. It took me awhile to process everything, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My kind, happy, bright, beautiful 12yr old was being told she is so ugly she deserves to be raped.

I wasn’t even sure did my daughter know what that meant? But I was now forced into a situation where I had to tell her, even if a Google search had got there before me. The worst of the messages had come in around Christmas & New Year but it had been going on for a month before that. I was shook. After a restless night’s sleep, we sat her down and asked dozens of questions and showed her what I had found. 

On asking how she felt reading those messages, she said she just ignored it, but we could see how much those words had impacted her over the couple of months. We decided to take away the phone & delete Snapchat and Sarahah. Our daughter was given a one month phone and Internet ban and we agreed that she would stay off social media until she regained our trust. We made sure she understood that this punishment was not for the actions of other people, but for disobeying the rules we had agreed to keep her safe, which included downloading an app without permission.  

I contacted her school principal and met with both principal and the class teacher to inform them of what was going on. I also contacted the Gardai over some of the things that was said and informed them of the app.  I searched the Internet for answers to my questions and contacted CyberSafeIreland for advice. It's not an easy thing to deal with. You feel alone & responsible for allowing the exposure in the first place.

Unfortunately, we never found out who posted the vile texts but a year on I have my beautiful, outgoing daughter back, social media free for now.  I know that I can’t keep her off it forever but she hasn’t asked for it back, so I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  

There are a couple of things I have learned from this experience… Firstly, it can happen to anyone, even the brightest, most confident child. Also, no matter how open your relationship is with your children, they won’t always speak out. Maybe because they are in fear of getting into trouble themselves or out of embarrassment. Most of all, I learned how important it is to keep talking to them & checking their online use even after you have laid down the rules.  

As a parent I also think it’s so important to educate yourself, and keep up to date with new apps and what these apps do. Look out for changes in your children & check their devices.  I’m afraid to think what could have happened if I hadn’t found those screenshots when I did. 

 

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About the author

Grace O'Sullivan (Guest Blogger)

Grace is a mum of one from Co. Cork who enjoys traveling, reading & time spent with family.  

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