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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Text and e-mail bullying: How can it be stopped?
A survey by children's charity NCH has revealed that more than one in four youngsters has been bullied either by e-mail or mobile phone.

Of the 856 people aged between 11 and 19 asked, 16% had received bullying or threatening text messages, 7% had been harassed in internet chat rooms and 4% by e-mail.

Of those, 29% had told no one. Of the other 61% who did, 42% had told friends and 32% parents.

The charity, formerly known as NCH Action For Children, is now asking the government to give teachers guidance on how to tackle the problem.

Have you experienced bullying by e-mail or text message? What do you think can be done to halt the rise in digital bullying?

This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

But let's face it, do you really need phones in school?

Paul, England
I was bullied at school, like a lot of other kids and it is wrong and made my life (not just school life) hell. But I have to say that a bully always finds ways round the restrictions. However much you try, the bully tries harder.... But let's face it, do you really need phones in school? If I'd had one I would have used it to cheat in nearly everything I did...
Paul, England

There certainly isn't any reason why a child in school needs a mobile phone in the first place. However, that isn't a solution. Caller ID and tracing headers for emails are pretty easy. The parents of the offenders should be notified (with proof) and held jointly responsible with the bully. All parents should be aware of any email their children get. The offenders can be filtered out easily. Schools should also keep reinforcing the idea that bullying of any sort is unacceptable and cowardly.
Arri London, UK

Three words... enforce better parenting.
Anonymous, UK

Use email filters to full effect to delete messages from unwanted directions and return a cookie to the sender which he/she has to agree to before the message is sent.
Hazel, UK

Spend a few hours on the web signing them up for every annoying service you can find

Sheridan, UK
Once you get the mobile number of someone sending you bullying texts or their email address spend a few hours on the web signing them up for every annoying service you can find. They'll be so busy dealing with a mountain of spam they won't have time to bully you
Sheridan, UK

Ooohh.. This is a tricky one... How about not giving people your number or e-mail address?
John, UK

Bring back corporal punishment!
Simon-James Wilson, Germany

You can't stop it once it's happening. You have to stop this sort of thing at source, and to do that you have to change discipline and attitudes. In my day, if a bully was caught, they were punished ... severely and dissuaded from doing it anymore. These days it's a slap on the wrist (or is that illegal now!) and being told "you are a naughty boy, don't do that again"! Pathetic PC clap-trap!
F Webb, Surrey

Oh for heaven's sake - forget about the technology, or the means of delivery. These pests will be bullying and be a nuisance in other ways already in virtually all cases. Have the guts to rout out the offenders and give the peaceful majority a chance!
Wendy Wartoff, UK

There is only one way to stop this and this is to make sure that the receiver knows who is calling so that he can be traced

There is only one way to stop this and this is to make sure that the receiver knows who is calling so that he can be traced. Pay-as-you-go phones should be registered and the ability to disable the caller id removed. All the providers should log the calls. This has to be a must and is the only deterrent to institute a sense of morals into the technology age. If we can tell who you are then you won't want to incriminate. Evidence is the ultimate rod of justice.

A couple of years ago I answered the phone to hear a voice say "I'm going to kill you" then hang up. Now, that merely made me angry, though it could have scared an elderly person half to death. The juvenile idiot who had made the call had forgotten to disable calling line identification, so I had his number. Access to a useful website gave me his address, so rather than disturbing the police, I decided to pay him a visit. I knocked on the door and a youth of 15 or 16 answered. I asked if his parents were there. They weren't. Then I asked if he wanted to get on with trying to kill me. You should have seen the little monster's face. He spluttered "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it was a joke" and ran inside. I think I laughed for a week.
Andy Baxman, UK

I do not think it is a problem that they are getting threats in chat rooms because most go there to insult people, and do not feel threatened if they are insulted back.
Matthew T, England

As long as you can use the Internet to a reasonable level (as most children can nowadays) it is pretty simple to block email addresses as "junk mail". I don't personally see how someone can get worked up about something so insignificant.
Mick Hudson, England

When I was at school bullying was being physically beaten, and I suffered from it. If a text message was all I had to worry about then I don't think I would consider myself 'bullied'.
Andrew, UK

Just leave it. It's hardly bullying if it's done via a telephone, is it? What will be next? Maybe trying to punish kids who have sinister thoughts?
Volker, England (ex Germany)

How do you stop digital bullying? You can't. It's just a fact of life, under a new medium. What you can do is give the children your support and love. And that's the victims and the bullies.
Philip, UK

When I was at school the bullies used more traditional methods of bullying like chairs, darts, table legs and the trusty fist. I would have loved it if instead of hitting me till I bled that they would have texted me about it. Unfortunately mobile phones didn't exist when I was in school.
Andy, England

Text and e-mail bullying are extremely easy to regulate. Simply set up a government regulated "forwarding number" i.e. e-Police. If you receive a bullying text message, forward it on as real-time evidence to the e-Police. The sender of the message then receives their own message from Scotland Yard notifying them that they have been added to the "bully register" - three offences and you get a call! etc. In summary: fight the crime in its own medium, in real time. A system like this would not be particularly expensive to set up.
Jonty, UK

You can't stop children owning phones and computers. More often than not people type in any numbers on a phone until they get lucky and someone answers, then they think it's funny to scare them. Calls to mobile phones can be traced if the information is passed onto the police and usually the ip addresses of computers can also be traced, so there is some comeback. The other thing parents need to do is encourage their children to report incidents and to be careful not to give out any information at all when on the computer.
Richard Hawley, UK

This is just another area parents have to cover when educating their children about life

Ellie, UK
This is just another area parents have to cover when educating their children about life. Bullying comes in all shapes and forms. As my daughter had a bullying phone call via her mobile phone not so long ago, the response from me was simple, don't answer a call from a number you don't recognise. As for the bullying text messages, a simple word passed around about logging numbers seemed to work, some times the idiots sending them forget they are also sending their own phone numbers!
Ellie, UK

You should be able to bar text messages from people you don't want to hear from as you can with emails - Create rules that simply delete the message before you even know about it - Outlook express can do this with ease.
Carl Preedy, GB

The good thing about this is that a trail is left and the texts shown to a teacher or the police, and emails printed out and the email addresses traced. Anyone stupid enough to bully via these means is going to be caught- then it's down to whatever the school has put in place (if anything- then just get the police).
Ken, UK

Your phone service can be cancelled immediately if it can be proved that a phone has been used for abusive messages.

James Tandy, UK
When it comes to threatening text messages, it is a condition of every service contract (whether you're with Cellnet, Vodafone, Orange or any of the others) that your phone service can be cancelled immediately if it can be proved that a phone has been used for abusive messages. The recipients of abusive text messages should forward them on to the service provider and demand that the sender's phone service be cancelled.
James Tandy, UK

Most email software has the facility to block messages from unwanted senders. The same facility needs to be introduced for SMS messaging.
Rhodri Evans, Wales

I never had a mobile phone when I was at school and I was still bullied. Bullies will use all means at their disposal in order to run their rein of terror. The best action, as it was then, is to ignore them and they will eventually get bored and go away.
Lance Strangely, New Zealand

It's the first time I have ever heard of this problem. I am a 14 year old and I've never experienced bullying on SMS or E-Mail. Parents should be tougher on children on giving out their E-Mail addresses, this would slow down this problem of bullying and the same goes for mobile numbers, be careful on who you give them to.
Gemma Mitchell, U.K.

Most of it is just children learning what is acceptable in their relations with other people.

Iain, UK
I was bullied at school. I lived with it, ignored the bullies taunts, avoided physical violence by the simple expedient of legging it, and gained a self belief that has stood me in good stead for the rest of my life. I now know when it's best to stand up for my self, when it's wisest to back down and perhaps most importantly that I don't have to conform to popular culture unless I want to. We should be devoting as much energy to fostering the good qualities which allow you to resist bullying as we do to wringing our hands and worrying that we can't stop people being people. No-one has ever got to the top of their chosen profession without bullying their subordinates to some extent, no-one who can't take a bit of bullying will survive in a workplace containing more than themselves and maybe a handful of their closest friends. A certain amount of bullying can be a good, positive educational experience. 'That which does not kill me makes me stronger'. Children can be evil, vicious and downright nasty - but most of it is just being children and learning what is acceptable in their relations with other people.
Iain, UK

E-mails and phone calls are traceable. So, you should know who is sending you all those messages anyway. Also, don't give the mobile phones to your kids!
Andrew, UK

Some people have written that the SMS or emails should be kept and used as evidence. There are a few problems with this however; It is incredibly easy to set up an email address without having to actually give your real name and details - so regardless of how many emails you may have as proof it really won't matter because you can't prove who sent it. Similarly with SMS, it is possible to send SMS over the internet via anonymous websites, so again, there will be no proof as to who sent the offending SMS. Short of banishing mobiles and computers from everyday life I don't see how this problem can be solved, and I don't see that as the answer.........what is?? I have no idea, that's why we pay politicians!!
Steve, UK

Kids in Germany are suffering the same thing. My girlfriend's boy just got bullied through SMS and she received sexist messages from an 11 year old. We dealt with it but why is it necessary for these young kids to have mobiles and even more so at school? We could limit access for emergency use or calling home only or have a minimum age of use, maybe 16.
Richard, Germany

Charities such as NCH should continue to concentrate their efforts and resources on the causes of bullying

Thomas, UK
All people of whatever age should be given a clear message that they should never give out their phone numbers in chatrooms on the internet unless they want to run the risk of being harassed by someone who turns out to be very different from how they first appeared. As for bullying messages from other kids at school, I do not think that the medium by which the message is sent is a particular issue, there are so many ways that people can be bullied that trying to cut out the means of communication between the bully and the harassed student is fruitless. Charities such as NCH should continue to concentrate their efforts and resources on the causes of bullying rather than the methods by which communications are made.
Thomas, UK

I am currently working closely with a team who are part of an EU project whose objective is to educate children on the risks of abuse and how to act on it whilst online. This includes chat-rooms and e-mail. The problem we have now is that we are knee-jerking months (or even years) after new problems arise, and disseminating the information to the general public is quite hard when computing subjects receive little or no media coverage.
Chris Byers, UK

Don't use e-mail and throw away your mobile. Problem solved!
Tom, UK

SMS and e-mail bullying is going to be done by from mobile phone numbers and e-mail addresses that the children know. If they keep the message they can use as it proof AGAINST the bullies. Teachers will then have no choice but to take action.

Kids are anti-social these days because of computers, electronic games and mobile phones. Take those away and shove the kids outside to play football, kerby, hopscotch and cowboys and indians with other kids and you not only take away these new avenues of bullying but you also make children of today less dysfunctional and more socially adept.
Rebecca Southwell, UK

If they miss the bus home I want to know about it!

Belinda, England
Why give a child a mobile phone? For their safety. We live in a rural location and both my children have long bus journeys to school - if they miss the bus home I want to know about it! My daughter has been abused via her mobile by another youngster and it took some comforting for her to shrug the incident off as not worth bothering about. What the solution is for persistent bullying via mobile, I don't know. Can the service providers allow a subscriber to block or refuse calls from designated numbers?
Belinda, England

It cannot be completely stopped, plain and simple. We did not have mobile phones or the internet when I was growing up. The bullying I endured was face-to-face. Even if you took phones and the internet out of the equation, bullying would continue nonetheless.
Stacey Turner, American in the UK

Surely text messages and e-mails are hard evidence of the bullying actually taking place, which is different to verbal and physical bullying in the playground etc. Kids should be aware of this, and be more confident in reporting it to parents or teachers.
Mike, UK

It strikes me that we are in danger bringing up a generation of children who have their awareness of bullying exaggerated to such an extent that they can't tell the difference between idle name calling and a genuine personal threats. My own daughter became increasingly anxious one term because she was continually warned against the effects of bullying in the playground. The school by their own admission stated that it was a local authority initiative, and that no such problem existed.
Graeme Dobie, UK

Nick, UK, asks why a 10 year old child needs a mobile phone. For the same reason that my mother made sure that I always had change for the phonebox. So that she knew I could contact a reliable adult in an emergency.
Julie, UK

Why does a 10-year-old child need a mobile phone?

Nick, UK
You should be 18 or over to own a mobile. You can then be criminally liable for any misuse. Why does a 10-year-old child need a mobile phone? My kids seem to live normal happy lives without owning one. Again it's parents giving in to every demand made by their offspring.
Nick, UK

I was shocked at the hard tone taken by those who have written in so far. David - 'mollycoddling' children isn't what it's about - it's teaching them how to deal with aggressive behaviour and bullyboy tactics that are unacceptable at any age. A lot of children will find this sort of harassment very frightening and alienating - bullying of any kind at such a young age is a terrifying experience for children who don't have the skills or strategies to deal with this kind of behaviour. We should be finding ways to help them, not saying 'tough luck, it's part of growing up so deal with it'. All of us are responsible for creating this society; all of us should help children to deal with it...
Kate Lovegrove, UK

David Moran, you are absolutely right. Getting the authorities to establish published codes of acceptable behaviour and seeking mediation when those codes are violated are two solutions that are absolutely not available to adults so why in the world would we "mollycoddle" our kids by teaching them that they are? Solve your own problems, and get over it if you can't. Every man for himself. That's what we ought to be teaching our kids; right?
Deb, USA

It's part of life. If someone sends you an e-mail you don't like, or a text-message, you can always hit the "erase" button and get on with your life. Mollycoddling kids just leads to dependency in later life.
David Moran, Scotland/Australia.

Just ban mobile phones in schools. It's not rocket science. Allow children to have them but only to use them to call parents or for important things.
Matt, UK

Don't give your child a mobile phone and supervise their internet/ e-mail use. Simple.
Paul Atkins, England

See also:

16 Mar 01 | Scotland
Text message bullies action call
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