There had been an alarming increase in recent times in the number of children seeking psychological counselling who suffer shock or depression due to the online bullying.

New Delhi. On social networking sites like Facebook, even children are now becoming increasingly active, but experts have made a strong case for parents and guardians to keep an eye on their wards using the Internet as they can, willingly or unwittingly, come in contact with cyber criminals that may put their safety in jeopardy.

Dr. Sunil Mittal, a reputed psychiatrist and director of Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS), New Delhi , said that there had been an alarming increase in recent times in the number of children seeking psychological counselling who suffer shock or depression due to the online bullying. “There are cases of several children attempting to commit suicide after they were tormented and victimized on the social media. Keeping in view the phenomenal increase in social media, such problems are likely to aggravate in the times ahead,” he warned.

Dr Sunil Mittal said cases of teenagers being bullied online by peers of strangers are increasing day by day. He told that he himself had counselled and treated several such children during the past few months.

Dr. Mittal said that a fifteen-year-old student was brought to him for counseling. Some time back he was calm and well-behaved student but,  suddenly developed violent behaviour and brutally beat up his parents for not letting him access the Internet. In another case, a harmless group picture of a teenager with his friends in bed on got viral on Facebook, resulted in him being tagged as gay. This made him a recluse, and he developed a suicidal tendency. He attempted suicide by swallowing all the pills in his parents’ cabinet, as he was ‘mocked and jeered at’ by his friends and classmates who called him a gay.

In another case, a 13-year-old Delhi girl’s mother found her posting revealing pictures of her wearing inappropriate lingerie and clothes on social media to attract more attention after she failed to get a good number of ‘likes’ on her usual photos. The more ‘likes’ she got, the more she was compelled to post more revealing pictures. As soon as they came to know about it, here parents consulted a counsellor and realised that the conscious withholding of ‘likes’ by her peers was an indirect form of bullying.

Dr Sunil Mittal said that these are just a few cases of the hordes that are lately coming to him. According to him, cases of behavioural disorders caused due to Internet habits have been on a rise and there is a need to evolve some online “etiquette or value systems” to safeguard impressionable teenagers, who can easily fall prey to it.

“These cases of cyber-bullying are very common now. Since Internet and social media are here to stay, what is needed is to have some value system or online etiquette developed around them,” he said.

According to a recent study titled ‘Teens, Tweens and Technology Survey’,by Intel security, to which Dr. Sunil Mittal was also associated, 53%of the children active on social media claim to have witnessed cruel behaviour on social networks and 33% of those active on social media claim to have been the victim of cyberbullying themselves.

“In our country, there is often lack of openness and paucity of communication between parents and children. Because of such a factor, children often engage themselves in online activities in a clandestine manner. When they started getting tormented and becoming victims of cyber bullying by strangers, they are not able to talk about their plight to their parents because of fear. At times, it creates serious problems,” he pointed out.

On the other hand, in our country, parents are not fully conversant with computers, Internet and social media sites. Due to lack of technical knowledge, they are unable to keep an eye on the online activities of their children. In addition, several parents have misplaced and exaggerated faith in their children and they do not find it important to keep a track of their wards’ activities.

There is an imperative need for the parents to keep a track of the online activities of their children because they usually come in contact with dubious people on social networking sites and more often than not become victims of their nefarious activities and conspiracies. At times, it may lead to victims becoming criminals themselves. Keeping it in view, parents should be quite vigilant about the online activities of their children. For such a thing, it is important to improve communication channels between parents and their wards. Additionally, children should be made aware about the safety aspects of the Internet.

Dr Mittal said there are dangerous ramifications of children coming in contact with unknown people on social networking sites, and in the future, it may become a serious hazard. “The way parents warn their children to avoid strangers outside their homes, in the like manner, they should also tell them to be careful of the unknown people on social networking sites,” he added.

“There is an imperative need for parents to become conversant with new technologies and new information in view of the fast-changing channels of communication and transmission of knowledge. Addition, they will have to realize the importance of establishing communication with children of the new age”, said Dr.Shobhana Mittal, Consultant Psychiatrist at CIMBS.

Dr Shobhana Mittal said parents must try to know the activities, nature and hobbies of their children in order to establish a credible and trustworthy relationship with their children.

“The growing years are crucial not just for the psychical growth, but also for the intellectual, social and emotional development of your child.Right from a young age, children learn to form social bonds, share with others, learn to deal with their emotions and satisfy their curiosity. It is important that parents provide their child with opportunities to develop in a balanced manner, keeping over-all growth and development in mind,” says Dr. Sameer Kalani, Consultant Psychiatrist, Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, New Delhi.

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