What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when someone is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another person, through an electronic device. Some examples include mean text messages or emails, rumours sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles (StopBullying.gov).
A quarter of headteachers in England say they face problems related to cyberbullying every week, with over one in 10 saying these are caused by hurtful material posted on social media (BBC News, 2019).
Cyberbullying is different from being bullied in person because people become ‘brave’ hiding behind a computer and may say or do things without realising or caring about the consequences. Comments and photos can be sent out anonymously, quickly, and to a wide audience.
It can also happen any time day or night, so can be difficult for a child to get away from. It’s also easy for a child to hide from a parent or adult, whether they are being bullied or are doing the bullying.
Not all cyberbullies are known by the victim; there are plenty of people that set up anonymous accounts and bully people without anyone knowing who they are.
How to prevent cyberbullying
There is no set solution to avoid cyberbullying, and you can’t protect children 100%. But it is important to do as much as possible to help prevent it.
- Teach your child how to communicate online. Remember that written text can be articulated in different ways (the receiver can’t see facial expressions or voice tones and therefore a joke could be taken seriously). If someone receives an unfriendly message/email from your child they may be tempted to retaliate.
- Try and make them aware of what they are sending. Tell them never to send anything across the web that they wouldn’t want their teachers or parents to see – they may not realise what they are sending is a form of bullying.
- Look for signs in your children that they are being bullied. These include:
- Changing behaviour
- Secrecy and excessive solitary behaviour
- Hiding, deceitfulness – switching things off as you walk in
- Grades slipping
- Negative friendship changes
- Always report and block any abusers. Find out how to do this for some of the most common social media platforms at Childline.org.
- Building children’s confidence off-line is the key to helping them deal with cyberbullying and avoid feeling the need to cyberbully themselves.
How to react:
- Talk to your child – try to understand any issues they may be having
- Speak to their friend’s parents
- Discuss concerns with the school
- Escalate your response as appropriate
If you think your child is a cyberbully
Parents often try hard to protect their children from cyberbullies and neglect the fact that it could be their child doing the bullying. It is important to recognise both sides of bullying and if you suspect your child may be bullying others, remain calm (despite the urge to go mad) and talk to them.
You may like to consider the following pointers:
- Talk to them and ask them why they are being nasty to others; they may be unhappy themselves or retaliating to comments they have received. Try and find the reason behind the issue.
- Encourage them to think about how their actions have made the receiver feel. Developing empathy can have instant effects on them when they realise the consequences of their actions on others.
- Contact their school and ask the Headteacher to target cyberbullying, and have a look through the school’s guidance on the subject. Especially if both children attend the school they will want to get involved in rectifying the situation.
Unlike face-to-face bullying, it can be tricky to spot cyberbullying in action because everything is happening behind a screen. This can be scary for parents because it feels like unfamiliar territory – but many of the signs and solutions are similar to face-to-face bullying. Keeping the lines of communication open with your child, particularly as they reach their teens, is key to handling many bullying issues that arise.
- Childline tips, tools, forums and helpline
- NSPCC advice for parents
- CBBC’s anti-bullying clips and advice for children