What is cyberbullying?
Bullying has always been a part of young people’s lives. However cyberbullying can follow a child 24:7 wherever they go, so there is no escape. It is defined as using technology to embarrass, harass, threaten or target another person, making them feel uncomfortable, upset or unsafe. It is usually deliberate and repetitive. Recent studies show at least 1 in 4 teens have been victims of cyberbullying.
The stereotypical playground bully does not necessarily fit the profile of an online bully. The screen provides an anonymity which psychologists call ‘disinhibition’. People may say or do things they would never do in person if they were looking into the whites of their recipient’s eyes.
Typical signs of cyberbullying
- Avoiding friends or school in general
- Changes in mood, behaviour, loss of appetite, not sleeping
- Being very secretive about their online life
- Being nervous, moody or jumpy after looking at a screen
- Withdrawing from friends, family and usual activities
- Poor marks at school
- Getting angry, irritable or upset very quickly (tricky as most teens do this anyway!)
- Suddenly not wanting to use screens
- Frequent headaches or stomach issues.
When your child is being bullied
- The first step is to offer empathy and support. Just try to be a sounding board so your child feels comfortable to open up and talk. Listen to your child about what has been going on and how it makes them feel.
- Praise and thank them for telling you, which takes a lot of courage.
- Explain that it’s not their fault and bullying always says more about the bully than the victim.
- Stay calm. Try not to over react, get upset, angry or take over the problem. Agree with them what are the next steps they should take and what approach they would feel comfortable with.
- Discourage your child from retaliating or reacting as this often fuels the bully’s behaviour.
- Keep a detailed log of incidents and evidence, then report it to the school and use the ‘report abuse’ facility on social media.
- Block the bully online and have strong passwords.
- Encourage your child to engage in activities they enjoy to relax and boost their self-esteem and confidence.
When your child is the bully
- Talk to your child firmly and explain why any form of bullying is wrong, the negative impact it has and how they can stop.
- Restrict the use of devices, having a phone is a privilege.
- Try to look under the surface to identify what led to the bullying. It can be simply about feeling lonely or bored.
- Perhaps engage a therapist to give your child tools to cope with their anger, upset, frustration etc
Preventative measures to keep your child safe online
The more time children spend online, the more likely they are to be bullied or be a bully.
- Set clear rules about boundaries around the use of screens, particularly with regards to the use of social media.
- Teach and model important values such as kindness, respect and empathy. This applies online just as much as face to face in the ‘real world.’
- Be involved and talk to them very regularly about what they are doing online, just as you are aware of what they do offline. Sit with them and check their postings or messages every now and then. Know which sites they like to use and how they function.
- Keep screens in a central part of the home. No screens in bedrooms, particularly during the night. You can turn off messages and apps during certain times.
- Reassure your child that your job as a parent is to know what’s going and to keep them safe.
- Check out all your child’s privacy settings and parental controls.
- For children under the age of 16 it is probably advisable to know their passwords.
- Educate your child about not sharing passwords (other than with you) or any personal information.
- Be aware that a lot of bullying happens on sleepovers in a group, when kids feed off each other and may do things they would never do if they were alone.
- Explain the importance of only connecting with people you have met in person and trust. Once you have posted, you have no control over where the information goes or how it is used.
- Discuss what they would do if they saw something that made them feel uncomfortable or upset or if they saw someone else being bullied. How would they handle it? Who would they tell? What if they saw a friend being left out or nasty messages being posted?
It can be extremely upsetting for parents whether you find out your child is being bullied or if they are the actual bully.
Connect with your child regularly and show you listen and understand. You know your child better than anyone else.