Cyberbullying - advice for parents
Bullying can happen anywhere – in school, at home and increasingly, online. One in three children have been a victim of cyberbullying but many are too afraid to admit it. Here are some signs parents can look out for – and what to do if you find out your child is being bullied online
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using technology – whether that’s through messages sent to a mobile phone, on social media or via gaming sites. It doesn’t take place in person, and the abuse isn’t physical, but you shouldn’t underestimate the effects on your child.
Often this kind of bullying is repeated over a period but children say nothing because they’re too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone about it – or maybe they don’t realise themself that this is a form of bullying.
Because it can happen wherever they are, and at any time, through their phone, tablet or laptop – devices they’ll often have with them constantly – many children feel they cannot escape this bullying.
For parents, it’s important to be aware of the signs your child is being bullied, and know how you can help them cope, and stop it happening.
How to spot the signs that your child is being bullied online
It can be difficult to tell if your child is being bullied, especially if cyberbullying is something you have no experience of. But there are certain signs that you should look out for:
- If they're upset after using computer, phone or tablet
- They're being secretive about their online activity
- Spending less time online or texting
- Showing signs of anxiety, loss of confidence and low self-esteem
- Signs of self-harming
- They're short-tempered, occasionally aggressive or even bullying others
- Trying to stay off school
- Avoiding friends and social situations
- Wetting the bed
- Having difficulty sleeping
What to do if your child is being bullied online
If your child tells you they’re being bullied online then you must take it seriously. Remember, it’s probably been difficult for them to pluck up the courage to tell you (or even to admit to it if you’ve asked them outright) and, until now, they’ve been suffering in silence. You must take their concerns seriously.
Ask them for details:
What form does the bullying take?
How long has it been happening?
Who is the bully?
Insist that they show you the devices through which the bullying is taking place.
You should be direct and, if necessary, persistent in trying to get to the bottom of the problem, but you must also be sensitive – remember that victims often feel embarrassed and ashamed (one of the ways that bullying works is by making the victim feel responsible for the abuse they’re suffering).
Here are a few practical tips for parents:
- Save the evidence. Take screengrabs, pictures or print-outs of the messages, images or videos that your child has received.
- Block the bullies. A simple click might not make the problem go away but it’s a start to put a stop to this activity.
- Report anything inappropriate. If offensive or abusive content has been shared publically online, use the report buttons on the website or social media platform where the content has been posted.
- Have a good look at your child’s friends and contacts list. Decide whether you think some of the people they’re in touch with online are good people to know. Your child might not thank you for it in the short term but a cull of the contacts list could have a positive effect.
If your child has received images or videos of a sexual nature
Your child will need special support if they have been sent images or films of a sexual nature. Do not ignore the issue and hope that they will forget about it. It’s not an easy topic of conversation, but it’s important you talk to your child about what they’ve seen.
Discuss the matter with professionals at their school, who are trained to deal sensitively with such matters and will advise you if they think extra counselling is necessary.
If children at school are involved
Contact the school and tell them that your child has been the victim of cyberbullying. Your child might think that this risks making matters worse but it must be done. Talk to a teacher and insist that they take the matter seriously. Try not to keep your child off school, as this will only add to their sense of isolation and will make matters worse in the long term.
Talk to your children before issues arise
It’s essential today that parents consider their children’s internet safety. Even if you don’t think your child is being bullied, online or otherwise, it's still an important issue to discuss with them when they're using devices independently, or signing up to social media sites or apps.
We all hope cyberbullying isn't something we'll have to deal with, but it's best to be prepared. It’s easier to confront difficult situations early, rather than trying to solve a problem after the event. And it's much better to have open communication, so that your child feels they can come to you with any issue they might be having, knowing you will listen and help where you can.