There is a new war being waged in Australia – the weapons smartphones, tablets and computers. Children are the victims of these sometimes fatal assaults, carried out by keyboard warriors with the click of a few buttons.
Cyber bullying is a 24-hour sport and easily conducted under a veil of secrecy. And it’s taking lives. It has been blamed for suicides including that of 14-year-old Dolly Everett in the Northern Territory on January 3.
These deaths are preventable. That is why I am calling for a complete ban on all personal mobile devices on school grounds, and tighter restrictions on the use of social media platforms on school computers and tablets.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. It is responsible for roughly a third of all deaths of people aged under 25. And the suicide rates for these age groups are increasing every year.
I taught at Ulladulla High School for 27 years and I am well aware of the prevalence of bullying within the school playground. Fortunately, during my tenure in the classroom students had little to no access to mobile devices. Online platforms had not yet become such an integrated part of society. While bullying still mainly occurs in the playground, studies point to an alarming increase in the use of social media platforms as a driver for bullying.
The Carly Ryan Foundation, set up in memory of an Adelaide teenager killed in 2007 by a paedophile she had met online, has called for laws to ban cyber bullies from social media and place them under apprehended violence orders. If adopted, these commonsense suggestions would allow the authorities to immediately act against bullies and provide relief to their victims.
I do not want to see cyber bullies fill our prisons or court system (although the thought has crossed my mind), but I do want to see real and immediate action taken to prevent such loss of life. We need additional resources in our schools to help teachers combat the effects of social media use, particularly during school hours. We need to ban mobiles and tablets on school grounds. And we need to restrict the use of social media on school devices. I made this clear in a submission to the federal inquiry into Australia’s cyber bullying laws, which is due to report its findings next month.
John Brogden, the chairman of Lifeline Australia, has called for suicide to be declared a national emergency. I would go one step further – this is a national epidemic, requiring swift, whole-of-government action.
Last week, the Council of Australian Governments rightly took the step of putting cyber bullying on the national agenda, stating their intention to hold a national summit on the topic later this year, but there needs to be more than talk. Families have waited far too long and some have suffered too great a loss for a delay in action.
Shelley Hancock is the Speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly and Member for South Coast.
Lifeline 131 114
Beyondblue 1300 224 636
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800