As the young generations become increasingly dependent on digital platforms for learning, social interactions, and entertainment, the Child Safety Department (CSD), an affiliate of the Supreme Council for Family Affairs (SCFA) in Sharjah, recently organised a virtual session titled ‘Sarah’s and Rashid’s Journey with Cyberbullying’, to highlight the dangers associated cyberbullying and ways to protect children online.
In the presence of Nahla Hamdan Al Saadi, Head of Programmes and Events at CSD, the session was led by three young cybersafety ambassadors of CSD, namely, Salama Al Tunaiji, Batool Kifah Al Tameemi and Mayed Al Murr, who took participating children and teenagers on an interesting journey with Sarah and Rashid – two virtual characters developed by CSD to impart knowledge by replicating real-life situations on various cyberbullying issues on its social media platforms, through publications and activities, and subsequently, raise awareness and empower children to safeguard themselves.
Salama Al Tunaiji, clearly defined cyberbullying as a deliberate and repeated act of shaming the target via digital channels through inappropriate comments or even sharing the victim’s photos online without their consent. For her part, Batoul Al Tamimi, who described the unique characteristics of cyberbullying, thereby helping the audience distinguish it from bullying that children may face in their lives, which may include physical/verbal abuse or stealing of the belongings of the victim.
She explained the far-reaching psychological impact on the target if cyber mistreatment goes undetected and cautioned parents to be extremely perceptive about differentiating harmless pranks from cyberbullying. Batoul also emphasised on this point especially because the abuser in the case of cyberbullying is usually unknown unlike face-to-face abuse, and also touched upon the impact such situations can have on a child bully who risks getting punished, ostracised or abandoned by friends.
CSD cyber safety ambassador Mayed Al Murr presented practical solutions to counter cyberbullying, including the protection of all personal accounts and information on social media platforms, and highlighted the need for children to reach out to their parents immediately when they detect any online threats to them.
Mayed’s key guidelines to the young attendees for reducing their risk of falling prey to cyberbullying included open communication and building trust with their parents; to learn the proper way of using internet-enabled devices; securing and customising the security settings of all personal accounts to prevent information hacking; and finally, contacting the police when an incident of online bullying or harassment occurs.
The discussions were made highly interactive with an online questionnaire that participants filled out, and an open audience discussion in the end. Some attending children also recounted their experiences of falling victim to cyberbullying. The session was organised in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA).