If you see something, do something. Talk to a trusted person, and while parents are often not the first preference for children to report bullying, other platforms are available to be used.

This advice was given by Muriel Mafico of Unicef, addressing cyberbullying and the psychological effects it has on young people. “There are systems in place, use them,” she said. Teachers and NPOs offer free services to people in need, she added.

The UN body’s deputy representative in South Africa said all of society had to respond to the growing tendency by some to use technology to bully others, “ … from tech companies to schools to parents to everyone; children must have access to digital platforms to empower themselves, but it must be safe spaces”.

Because of the anonymity through which bullies could spread the hurt, and the devastating, long-lasting effects brought about by cyberbullying, she said, access to help had to be immediate and round the clock.

“Government must create an enabling environment to ensure that frontline workers have the support they need to stop it in its tracks; parents must model positive behaviour; children should be assisted in understanding the technology they use,” she said during a discussion by the Government Communication and Information System, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies and the National Press Club on cyberbullying and its effects on young people. “Let us reimagine a safer South Africa for all children who go online,” she said.

The discussion was held after the suicide of Lufuno Mavhunga, following footage of her being attacked by a fellow student went viral. That, speakers said, was classic cyberbullying and its tragic effects.

Communications and Digital Technologies Deputy Minister Pinky Kekana said: “It is incumbent on all of us to be deliberate in acting against violence in all its forms.”

Getting to the bottom of how bullies became bullies was important, she said. The factors were many. “Their motives can run from anger, hate, or longing to belong. It can also be hunger for attention.”

The need for more regulation to make children and adults aware of cyberbullying had become overwhelming as the number of cases increased. “Key for us as parents is to ensure we teach intolerance for it. Let us not assume our children are innocent.”

It was also important to teach children to stand up to cyberbullying, bullying and violence. Teach children that “if they cannot say it to someone’s face why post it; ask what will be the consequences of sharing it”, she said.

The consequences, the speakers agreed, lasted way beyond childhood and manifested in low self-esteem, mental health issues, poor performance in school and work, and in some cases, victims also became bullies.

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