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Aussie mum's desperate plea after heartbreaking find on daughter's phone

Do you know what your children are doing online?

When an Aussie mum reluctantly allowed her 12-year-old daughter to have a mobile phone and a Snapchat account, it was on the condition she could check the child's device at any time. What she found after just a few weeks was gut-wrenching.

The girl, whose father died by suicide a month ago, received a disturbing Snapchat message from a classmate. "This is the exact reason we aren't friends you fat oversized bitch. When you think everyone loves you but honestly they all wished you were dead," the message read.

Abusive snapchat message on 12-year-old girl's phone
A mum has pleaded for vigilance after finding this Snapchat message on her 12-year-old daughter's phone, only weeks after the girl's father died by suicide. Source: Supplied

Mum's plea to parents

Anna*, the mother of the Year 7 student, was horrified by the message and said while she has "no hard feelings" towards the 12-year-old girl who sent it, she wanted to let other parents know what kids are exposed to. "Parents should be made aware and accountable to some degree what their children are saying or sharing online," she posted on Facebook.

"Please, please, please check your darlings' phones to make sure it's all above board and have open dialogue and boundaries in place," she urged.

Fortunately, the Queensland woman says her daughter shrugged off the incident, but that in itself was concerning. "It became apparent that this sort of thing happens so often within their age group," she told Yahoo News Australia. "It's sort of a non-event, and didn't worry her like I think it should have."

The relationship between the two girls is now "civil", but Anna says her daughter is "keeping her distance".

Girls in the firing line

Acting e-Safety Commissioner Kathryn King says most reports of online safety issues involve girls aged 12 to 16, while around half of the 8 to 17-year-olds surveyed by the independent regulator said they'd been treated in a nasty way online in the previous year.

"Cyberbullying can take a profound psychological toll, especially when part of a sustained, broader pattern of abuse," Ms King told Yahoo. "It can lead to poor mental health, a loss of confidence and reduced self-esteem, all of which can negatively affect study, friendships and family relationships. In short, the impact of abuse can have a ripple effect across many aspects of life."

School's response

Following the incident, Anna held a meeting with staff at her daughter's school, who said they're taking the matter seriously. "Because it happened on private devices and outside of school they aren't bound by any behaviour code, however they are very determined to have it stamped out and are willing to do what they can on their end to put an end to this behaviour," Anna said.

The school declined a request by Yahoo News for a statement about the incident.

While she's happy the school is taking action, Anna believes parents should actively keep their children safe online. "I think you have to know your child and who they associate with. I really think it starts in the home," she said. "I think it starts with the parents and the environment a child is in."

How to keep your children safe

Parents are being urged to monitor any changes in their children's behaviour after they start using social media, as it could be a telltale sign they're struggling with online abuse.

The e-Safety Commissioner has the following tips for parents and caregivers to keep children safe while using the internet or social media platforms:

  • Before introducing a smart device, or downloading a new app, set family rules together including what can be used, when and for how long.

  • Encourage children to use devices in open areas of the home, rather than their bedroom.

  • Regularly view privacy and safety features of the apps a child may be using.

  • Understand cyberbullying can happen anywhere, not just on popular social media sites.

Where to get help

If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, it's important to take screenshots and record the URLs. The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner recommends reporting bullying to the platform where it's occurring and if no response is received, report it at eSafety.gov.au/report. The e-Safety Commissioner can force the removal of seriously harmful content.

*Anna requested we use a pseudonym.

Mental health support for yourself or a loved one can be found by calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, Mensline on 1300 789 978, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800. Online support is available via Beyond Blue.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

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