How cyberbullying is hurting our kids

How cyberbullying is hurting our kids

I draw the attention of the House to bullying, in particular cyberbullying. Over the Christmas break, we heard of the tragic death of 14-year-old Amy "Dolly" Everett, who took her own life after experiencing online bullying. That was a tragic event. As a parent, I can not imagine the pain her family is experiencing. According to research undertaken by the Federal Parliament, one in every four students in Australian schools has been affected by bullying. The Centre for Adolescent Health states that children who are bullied are three times more likely to show depressive symptoms and nine times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Bullying imposes a potential cost on our health system, our social services and our criminal justice systembecause it is the fourth most common reason young people seek help. Perpetrators of bullying have a one in four chance of having a criminal record by the age of 30. Bullying is not a new problem and is something that most of us have experienced, whether it be at school, on the sports field or in the workplace. However, research indicates that it is no w increasing. Unfortunately for our children and young people, they must now navigate cyberbullying. It can be relentless and involve 24 hours a day of torment and abuse. Research indicates that the rate of cyberbullying is increasing, with one in 10 children being victims.

As adults, our workplaces have been protected by national anti-bullying laws—specifically, the Fair Work Act 2009 to ensure that staff and volunteers do not experience bullying or harassment. If we do, we have human resources departments to handle it on our behalf. We also have apprehended violence orders to protect people in domestic and personal relationships who are on the receiving end of harassment, violence, intimidation and stalking. However, the water seems to get murky when it comes to bullying and cyberbullying. What happens when the offender is under the age of criminal responsibility? Does bullying constitute harassment, intimidation or discrimination? What if the bullying has contributed to or caused a child to take their life? Does it constitute manslaughter?

My concern is whether we are doing enough to protect our children at such a vulnerable age from the heartache of bullying in all its forms. I know we have anti-bullying days and websites providing resources to help build resilience in our children. We also have national legislation to prevent discrimination based on race, disability or gender. Unfortunately, it appears that these initiatives and legislation, as good as they are, have not been enough. We have mandatory reporting for education and health care workers if they suspect that a child is being abused or neglected. What happens when that behaviour is at the hands of a peer in the schoolyard, or in a text message or on social media where the perpetrator can relentlessly inflict pain and trauma from the safety of their home and keyboard?

The Home Education Association saw an increase in registrations in New South Wales from 3,887 in 2016 to 4,661 in 2017. One reason for that is the incidence of children being bullied at school . Parents are looking for ways to protect their children. I heard about a young girl with Tourette's Syndrome whose parents took her out of school after persistent bullying. Despite the fact that she was being home schooled, she continued to receive horrific phone calls from her peers. We must take this problem seriously and do something about it for the future of our children, young people and the wellbeing of our State.

I want this Government to be on the right side of history. Let us not sit on our hands while we are unsure about how to tackle this issue . We owe it to our children and grandchildren to ensure that they grow up in this State safely and having fun and healthy experiences. We have seen the #metoo and #timesup movements, and more recently #neveragain, after the Parkland shooting in Florida. We should do our kids a favour and not wait for a social media hashtag and movement to occur. It is my hope that we can work together to prevent our children from having to lead the way through a social media movement by dealing with this issue and by treating it with the seriousness it deserves.