How to protect your child from online trolls

We are profoundly saddened by the news that another teen has been driven to suicide by online trolls.

14-year-old Hannah Smith was taunted over her weight and the death of her beloved uncle. Cyber bullies urged her to "drink bleach" and then "kill herself". At first she fought back, defending herself and her appearance and shaming them as best she could but they wore her down. She hanged herself last Friday.

Now her family is left to deal with the aftermath of her suicide. Trolls have even been spewing their abuse on the Facebook tribute page set up after her tragic death.

Her devastated father David says parents need to keep their children off the website where Hannah was tormented, Ask.fm. He says it's a "stalker paradise" and he's called for it's creators to be charged with manslaughter.

He told Sky News, "These websites should be got rid of, if nothing else they need to be regulated and they need to stop people from doing this.

"Modern technology has gone on but the law have stuck the same."

Something is very wrong with the way people are allowed to behave online. Here's a comparison:

When multiple accidents happen at a particular spot on a particular road it is called a "black spot". It doesn't take long for a set of lights, a roundabout or some speed humps to be installed.

How many deaths is it going to take before we take some real action over those who taunt others to kill themselves?

Less than a fortnight before she died, Hannah begged her tormentors to stop abusing her. One bully called her an "ugly f#ck". Hannah responded by explaining she'd already attempted suicide, saying, "Getting things like this from people that like to hide behind there (sic) computer screen doesn't make me feel any better."


The poor girl tried to be strong.

Her dad said, "You can't just sit behind a keyboard and type something and think that doesn't matter. There's a complete lack of emotional intelligence.

"There's something not right with the world today that people can tell someone to die so many times that they actually do it."

Ask.fm has called the teenager's death a "true tragedy" and said it is cooperating with the police investigation.

In a statement the site said it actively "encourages users and their parents to report any incidences of bullying", either by using the in-site reporting button, or via the website's contact page.

"All reports are read by our team of moderators to ensure that genuine concerns are heard and acted upon immediately - and we always remove content reported to us that violates our Terms of Service," the statement added.

In Australia bullying is being blamed for an average of about 25 per cent of child suicides each year. The Australian Human Rights Commission says bullying is now 'endemic' in Australia and we are ranked the worst in the world for social network bullying.

Commission president professor Gillian Triggs says they are deeply concerned and have now made tackling the problem a priority.

Bullying complaints to the commission have risen by almost 40 per cent to 17,000 a year. You can just imagine how many aren't being reported.


"We are very concerned about these increased numbers," Prof Triggs told the No2Bullying Conference. "The commission believes that bullying is a significant issue in Australian society; in our schools, our workplaces and increasingly in our online lives. We think bullying is . . . endemic."

Sydney girl Madeleine Milne was just 13 when she took her own life early this year after relentless bullying. The Year 8 student from Asquith Girls' High became suddenly withdrawn. Her parents discovered that she'd stood up to someone being bullied at school and became a target herself.

Her father Peter Milne says he and his wife Valery became increasingly concerned about their daughter. "I then rang the school on the first of March, but the school didn't return my call.''

"I followed it up some time later, because I could see Maddy's anxiety was getting worse. Eventually I got the form teacher to ring back, and she said action had been taken, but she wasn't sure what.''

"We were, and we still are, very disappointed with the way the situation was handled."

I attended a seminar at my son's school recently where we were taken through the steps parents need to take to protect their children from cyber bullying. This is a primary school but the police officer giving the presentation explained it was never to early to start.

His golden rules are:

* Disconnect your WiFi. Your children should not be able to connect to social media whenever they like;

* Never set up social media devices in your children's bedrooms. They can use them but only in a family area;


* Install tracking software on your child's devices and each week read through every site they have visited and keep copies of any online bullying;

* If online bullying is discovered, report it to the police. Australian police can and will take action including contacting the bully and their parents and issuing a warning;

* Block sites like Ask.fm;

* They can only have a Facebook account if they 'friend' you;

* Read their Twitter feed;

* Learn social media language.

Embrace social media into your home, but learn how to use it and monitor your kids. Even if you ban it from home you can't stop them getting access to it at a friend's house, at school or once they turn 18.

I know this is a long and time-consuming list but it's the reality of the world we live in and it's part of modern parenthood. It's not enough to give feed them, clothe them and help them with their homework. It's not enough to take them to soccer and music and ask about their day. 58 per cent of children will not tell their parents about a bullying incident.

Also, don't keep your monitoring a secret. Let them know everything you are doing. It's not that you don't trust them, it's just that you are protecting them from strangers, just as you would when you are walking down the street holding their hands, teaching them how to drive and giving them curfews.

For help with emotional difficulties, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or www.lifeline.org.au.

What steps do you take to protect your children online?