Why active kids are less likely to be cyberbullied

Active kids offline encounter less bullying online.

At a glance

  • Kids who do extracurricular activities encounter less cyberbullying.
  • Exercise strengthens resilience.
  • Socially connected kids are more able to switch off from online abuse.
  • Parents should ask their kids about their online activities.
  • Set a technology curfew.Computers and mobile devices should come out of bedrooms at night.

We all know that getting kids off the computer and outside to play is important for their health. But researchers at Griffith University (Qld) have found kids who do extracurricular activities (such as sport or voluntary work) tend to be safer online, encounter less cyberbullying, and are more resilient to harassment if it occurs.

On the other hand, researchers found that kids who spent a lot of time online were:

  • isolated in their computer usage (such as having the computer in their bedroom)
  • more likely to take risks
  • more stressed
  • likely to report higher levels of cyberbullying and harassment which distressed them.

The report, The Impact of High Speed Broadband Development on Youth Consumption of Internet (online) Interactive Services and Consumer Well-Being, published last year by Dr Margee Hume and Associate Professor Gillian Sullivan Mort, stated it's actually not what children are doing online that is the problem, it's what they are doing offline which is the key to their wellbeing.

The pair interviewed more than 150 children between the ages of 10 and 18 and found those involved in fewer extracurricular activities were also the ones most likely to exhibit risky behaviour online.

Exercise strengthen resilience

During the course of the study, Dr Hume found that keeping children occupied and active away from the computer for at least 30 minutes a day was one of the key components of cultivating a healthy and safe relationship with the internet, and this is where parents came to the fore.

Children who were most at risk were those who did not have a strong interest in other activities.

"Exercise was a big factor. All the kids who were participating in sports or dancing and other activities not involving the internet had experienced fewer problems online," she said.

The results also showed that these children had a better sense of self and wellbeing, and could balance out instances of cyberbullying with their friendships away from school and the web. They were also less likely to be negatively affected by bullying and could switch off or walk away.

They found the children who were most at risk were those who were socially and geographically isolated, did not have a strong interest in other activities, and whose parents had little or no understanding of the technology their children were using.

Put the communication back into technology

Dr Hume was amazed at the divide between the children's computer usage and the parents' knowledge of how they used technology and what they used it for.

"One thing that would really help bridge this divide is if parents said to their children, ‘Tell me about [for instance] Instagram? I'd like to have an account. Could you show me how to set it up and use it?' This way, parents have valuable interaction time with their kids and they go on the journey with them. But importantly, they also get to understand the technology their children are using and its potential. It's very powerful."

The research indicates it's important for parents not only to have more of an understanding of the technology their kids are using to communicate, but also to balance the time their kids spend online with other activities away from the computer.

Set a technology curfew
Experts used to advise parents to ensure the computer is in a communal area, not in an isolated place, like the bedroom. The reality is many kids have smartphones, tablets or iPods which can access the internet, so that's less realistic these days. 

Instead make it a RULE in your house that after a certain time ( say, 9:00 PM) all devices come out of bedrooms and get charged in the kitchen.

Dr Hume is a big advocate of parents ‘skilling up' on technology and not being afraid of it, or worse, ignorant.

"Lack of parental supervision, isolated or excessive computer use, and lack of offline activity all increase the risks associated with online activity," said Dr. Hume.

"It's about establishing a different relationship with your kids and meeting them half way."

If you're stuck for ideas on how to encourage your child to get out into the fresh air and exercise or volunteer, check the links on the right-hand side of this page.


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