47% of children in Saudi Arabia have come across cyberbullying

47% of children in Saudi Arabia have come across cyberbullying
Not all children are as forthcoming. Many feel embarrassed to let their parents know they have been targeted. (Shutterstock)
Updated 19 March 2021

47% of children in Saudi Arabia have come across cyberbullying

47% of children in Saudi Arabia have come across cyberbullying
  • 51 percent of Saudi parents claim that cyberbullying is a top concern

JEDDAH: The 21st century presents numerous challenges to parents, not the least of which are digital threats like cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can cause stress and depression in children and adolescents, and it has many parents battling a hidden danger as they try to maintain healthy communication and build trust with their children, while also giving them space and ensuring they understand the perks and dangers of the online world and the plethora of social media platforms.
According to cybersecurity company Kaspersky’s “Responsible Digital Parenting” survey, 51 percent of Saudi parents claim that cyberbullying is a top concern. This comes as no surprise as the internet phenomenon has negatively impacted children’s performance at school (40 percent); led to social isolation (36 percent); contributed to ongoing stress (33 percent); and resulted in decreased self-esteem (31 percent), depression (28 percent) and even anorexia (22 percent). 
The report stated that 47 percent of children in Saudi Arabia had come across at least one form of cyberbullying, whether they were bullies, saw their friends being bullied or were bullied themselves.
Andrey Sidenko, head of Child Safety at Kaspersky Network, said that the digital landscape constitutes a unique problem for parents, as the dangers can often be invisible and children do not always divulge what is happening to them online.
Arab News spoke to a few Saudi parents and children on how to handle a discussion on the dangers of the online world in an effective and healthy manner.
Nawaf Al-Buhi, a 28-year-old mechanical engineer, has an eight-year-old sister and said it is not appropriate for children her age to be using the internet. 
“I do allow her to play games that are appropriate for her age, and I allow her and her seven-year-old cousin to call each other on FaceTime, but I don’t allow calls from anyone else because I don’t know how other people raise their children. I don’t want her to learn bad language and such,” he told Arab News.
He advised parents and older siblings to look out for the children in their family and not allow them to participate in online games with chatting options.
He said: “There are good games on tablets, but I let the children play in front of me. I don’t allow them to play with strangers,” he added.
Dr. Majda Ghareeb, an associate professor in information science, has seen and heard of the concerns that are arising with the ubiquitousness of enticing ads for applications and online games. She said she is hands-on when it comes to her children using phones or tablets.
“I already had a talk with them on the good and bad sides of the internet,” she told Arab News. “There was some worry when my 12-year-old son joined TikTok, but thankfully he sends me Islamic videos and only watches cooking videos.”
Ghareeb described her relationship with her children as close and said that she has created a safe space for them to open up to her. “They know they can always come and talk to me. Usually, when they’re playing online, I’m around them, just to make sure everything is okay.”
She added that parents should limit their children’s online time and have open discussions “in a healthy manner so that parents do not become the bullies.”
Her 12-year-old son Abdulmajeed Al-Maghrabi has learned to avoid situations that feel instinctively wrong. “When I play Fortnite and someone tells me something bad, I immediately leave the game and open a new one. My mother always tells me to watch out for anything that feels wrong when I play online,” he said.
Mashail Al-Mutairi, a 43-year-old mother of three, told Arab News that although her two elder daughters, 16 and 13, have a clearer understanding of the internet, her eight-year-old daughter struggles to comprehend the dangers enough to protect herself.
“While under lockdown, my husband and I were working from home, and it was a hectic time for everyone. With little to do, my daughters all opted to play on their tablets, and I will admit that I bear the responsibility for what came next, but I never expected to see my youngest, Shahad, seclude herself and become overly sensitive,” said Al-Mutairi.
“I immediately began to see signs of her closing off. She always wanted to be left alone, even when her sisters asked her to play with them in the pool or with their scooters. I would find her bringing me her iPad with her eyes watery, and even though she would try to conceal it and tell me she hurt her hand or offer some other excuse, I knew something was up,” she told Arab News.
Not all children are as forthcoming. Many feel embarrassed to let their parents know they have been targeted. Al-Mutairi’s shock came when her youngest asked to join Tiktok and play with her cousins. Since she had parental controls over all her children’s tablets, she refused and explained that TikTok was not an app for children, but her daughter “burst into a fit of tears and blurted out that all her friends make fun of her because she does not use the app, calling her a baby.”
“How can you protect your child and convince her that you are doing the right thing when her peers are telling her otherwise?” Al-Mutairi lamented.
Heartbroken over their daughter’s plight, both Al-Mutairi and her husband sat down for a long chat with their three daughters and explained to them the dangers of these apps.
“It’s still a challenge. I don’t think it will ever be easy, but I am more hands-on now than I have been in the last year. My baby will always be protected when I’m there; the challenge is when I’m not around,” she added.