Tackling cyberbullying and online grooming

Regrettably, in Argentina, there is a growing number of cases of online grooming and cyberbullying with very tragic outcomes. According to statistics, more than 5,000 complaints about these issues were made in 2017 in Argentina, which is approximately 14 complaints per day – and these figures are increasing all the time. There are also many incidents that go unreported.

Over the last year, at Red Viva Argentina, we have been addressing the topics of cyberbullying and online grooming through holding workshops and seminars with community leaders, schools, parents and children to raise awareness of and prevent online threats. We have also been sharing how to navigate the internet safely.

In the workshops, parents find it hard to understand the dangers their children face with unsupervised access to the internet and that adults often do not know how to talk about or deal with these issues. And in turn, there are children who are making bad choices but do not know how to speak about it.

In one of the rural schools we visited, one of the teachers shared that a student was harassed by another teenager who sent messages and photos through social media. This first started out as a game and then developed into harassment with continued and constant messages. The subject was raised and it was discovered that the perpetrator was in love with her victim. The parents transferred the teenager to another school and filed a harassment lawsuit. The teachers were surprised by what happened and did not know how to move forward.

Preventive and awareness workshops are necessary to start conversations about cyberbullying and online grooming. It is only through starting to talk about these issues, that they can start to be tackled.

This year, our network has also held four preventive training sessions in secular schools and three in churches, talking with children or adolescents who do not have close or reliable adults to talk to about these issues. Before the training, many did not take account of or know much about the risks because they didn’t realise how much it could affect their lives.

Despite damaging uses of the internet, it is important to recognise and remember that it can also be used as a positive tool. I remember a family from the provinces of Argentina; their daughter went to live in Spain and every day they had a video-linked lunch with them. How beautiful it was for the mother to meet her grandchildren! Her daughter and son-in-law were talking about what happened during their day and praying. The internet brought this family closer every day despite the distance.

So, let’s talk to our children about the best way to use social media and also the danger, showing them how to not let the media influence us. It may mean we have to learn to turn off our screens more to spend more time with our children and to re-establish eye contact without a screen between. But it will surely be worth it.

By Adriana de Jure, Network Co-ordinator of Red Viva Argentina

Photos: Nahuel Berger / World Bank and Leonardo Samrani

This article first appeared in Life magazine, issue 10