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Cyberbullying among kids on rise in Japan; What can schools do to address it?

Nobuya Ono, a teacher at Minatojima Gakuen, teaches children how to use social media responsibly, in Kobe's Chuo Ward on Dec. 5, 2022. (Mainichi/Atsuko Nakata)

KOBE -- Children bullying their peers on social media and via their smartphones is on the rise in Japan. The closed nature of these services makes spotting the damage difficult, and how to prevent it has become an issue. This Mainichi Shimbun reporter visited a school here that is focusing on educating students about information ethics.

    "Have you ever heard of social media? Today, we will learn how to use these services comfortably," teacher Nobuya Ono said to a class of 25 fourth graders at Minatojima Gakuen, a municipal compulsory education school in Kobe's Chuo Ward, in early December last year.

    Of the total 27 students in the class, 23 have smartphones. Half of them say they have had bad experiences when using the Line free messaging app or playing online games.

    In that class, the kids watched an animated video about Miho, an elementary school student who believes a rumor that her friend, Kaori, has said bad things about her, and tries to talk back to her in a group chat. But Miho's mother warns her, "Once you send a message, it's hard to erase it. Think carefully before you use the app." When Miho went to school the next day, she found out that Kaori had not actually said anything bad about her.

    After the video, Ono, 30, explained, "Let's use social media properly, considering the feelings of the other person." One of the female students nodded her head and said, "When I send a Line message, I'll make sure that I don't send it lightly, and that I use the app responsibly."

    Minatojima Gakuen is designated by the city as an information ethics model school to promote guidance on cyberbullying measures and internet addiction. The school has been conducting regular classes on information ethics in each elementary and junior high school grade for two and a half years, when the coronavirus pandemic reduced opportunities to go outside and made smartphone and internet dependence more serious.

    According to a survey conducted by Japan's education ministry in the 2021 school year, there were 21,900 cases recognized as cyberbullying among students that year -- a record.

    Hajime Arai, a professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka Prefecture and an expert on cyberbullying among children, said, "The age for starting to use smartphones is getting younger, at a faster pace than expected. It's necessary for children and their guardians to learn about the dangers of online society early.

    "First, teachers and staff should understand cyberbullying and work with outside experts, such as the police and universities, to prevent it from happening," he added.

    (Japanese original by Atsuko Nakata, Kobe Bureau)

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