DUBAI // Children who suffer at the hands of online bullies are being offered safe haven where they can talk about mental health with professionals and other youngsters.
Social media has fuelled the rise in online bullying, which often has a damaging effect on psychological well-being.
Now, the Camali Clinic in Dubai is running a free weekly drop-in group for teenagers in the hope it will encourage more young people to speak about bullying and the long-term damage it can cause.
Clinical administrator, Billie-Jae Richards, co-ordinates the weekly community group for 12 to 18 year olds.
“Young people can meet and connect with one another to build social and emotional security,” she said.
“They can join group activities including art, music, socialisation, movie nights and games.”
Anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self harm are often the product of bullying, which is becoming more common online than it is in the classroom, clinic psychologists warned.
“Over the past 10 years, there has been a rise in cyberbullying,” said Dr Fareeha Amber Sadiq, a psychiatrist who specialises in treating adolescents.
“It needs to be seriously addressed because it can lead to tragic consequences.”
Social media has changed the way children interact. Personal information is shared more freely than before and that can leave children open to abuse and exploitation.
Photographs can be taken from social media and used illegally without the owner’s consent. That can result in young people being rejected or ridiculed by their peers, often leading to serious disruption of school and home life.
“For some children, the consequences of cyberbullying can feel immense,” Dr Sadiq added.
“As children and young people carry smartphones and tablets there often feels like no escape from the bullies.”
Dubai radio station Pearl FM hosts weekly discussions on cyberbullying with specialists, parents and children.
The station is at Al Jalila Culture Centre for Children in Al Wasl.
“Our show offers a helping hand to parents, to let them know the latest smartphone apps their children are using, for example,” said Jeff Price, founder of the station.
“We bring in children occasionally to get their point of view and they are happy to discuss their experiences.
“When Skype became available here, we were aware of incidences of children at primary school using it to bully others by setting up a get-together or sending messages then calling on Skype. It was group bullying.”
With children born into an internet age, adolescents are ahead of parents.
“There is a big disconnect between parents and their children’s online activity,” Mr Price said. “Parents should spend time with their children without technology to help develop trust, with family time together and no smart devices around.”
The free sessions begin on Tuesday, February 23, and will run at the Camali Clinic every Monday from 5.30pm to 7pm at Building 27, Dubai Healthcare City. For more information, call 04 276 6064.