Cyberbullying and your child

Recognising whether your child is being intimidated online is vitally important, as children spend more and more time on their mobile phones and computers. Here are some tips and advice on what to look out for, and what to do if you're concerned

Bullying has changed dramatically over the last decade. No longer confined to physical aggression and verbal taunts, it’s taking place on social media, WhatsApp and email - and is largely undetected by parents and teachers.

Home should be a untouchable, safe haven for vulnerable kids, but the Internet age means they’re now exposed to bullies 24/7. Cruel comments or private information can be posted on blogs, social media or chatrooms; threatening texts or pictures can be taken without their permission and uploaded to social networking websites.

Putting a stop to it and tracing the perpetrators is even more difficult than with physical bullying, since cyberbullies can take steps to remain anonymous while spreading comments and rumours among a large network of connected kids.

Around 17% of 6-11 year olds, and 36% of teens, say they’ve received threatening or insulting emails or text messages, or had embarrassing posts made about them online.

Who’s at risk? Studies suggest girls are twice as likely as boys to be cyberbullied - and to engage in cyberbullying themselves. Kids who bully usually single out other kids at their school (46% of kids say a friend did it) and admit to cyberbullying frequently.

Access to new technology is key With the rise in mobile phone ownership among teens, text messaging is the most common type of cyberbullying in this age group. Tweens and younger children are more usually cyberbullied via email or chatrooms.

How can you protect your child? The main way is to get involved in what your child is doing and monitor their phone and Internet use. If you seldom take any interest in the online world your tween or teen is part of, or have no awareness of how social media works, you may not know where to start.

Monitor your child online Don’t allow your child Internet access alone on a computer in their bedroom – make sure they surf on a family computer, where they can be watched. Set your Internet browser to save a history of the websites your child visits. You can also place a block on any chatrooms or other websites you deem inappropriate for your child's age group.

Warn them about cyberbullying Encourage them to tell you if they are a victim in any form, or think their friends may be (or that they may be engaging in cyberbullying other children).

If you fear your child is a bully, explain that even if cutting comments are made anonymously and from behind the safety of a computer, it is still as hurtful as physically harming someone or insulting them verbally in person. 

Teach netiquette Make sure your child knows that she should never make unkind comments about other children on email, in chatrooms or on social media profiles. Your child should never text, email or post photos of herself engaging in inappropriate behaviour. Your child should never join in a conversation in which another child is being picked on. Ask your child to report to you immediately any instances in which they see another child being treated badly - you could help to nip things in the bud.

Keep passwords private Explain to your child the importance of not revealing any passwords she uses to her friends, however close they may be. It’s possible a friend could log on and use her online identity or email account to cyberbully another child or alter your child’s online profile or account details.

What if your child is being bullied? As with traditional bullying, many kids don’t tell their parents they’re being cyberbullied because they’re worried that taking action might make the problem worse. If your child does tell you she’s a victim, don’t dismiss it as just the odd rude text or email – kids feel particularly vulnerable if they know that text or email might have circulated around their entire school.

Tell them not to respond Getting into a battle-of-texts or emails will just drag your child in further and there’s a risk they may engage in defensive cyberbullying.

Don’t erase any texts, emails or pictures that have been sent by cyberbullies since these will form the only evidence that the incidents have taken place (print-outs are not sufficient – you need to preserve an electronic record, so make sure any emails on public email systems, such as Yahoo, are archived).

Try to track down the bully Contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) for assistance in identifying where cruel emails are originating. Using inappropriate language may well violate the terms and conditions of email services, ISPs and phone providers. Contact the providers and ask about filing a formal complaint.

Cease contact Block further incoming emails or texts from the bully (but bear in mind they could change their email address and continue the bullying); or consider investing in a phone which only accepts calls from numbers you programme into it.

Inform your child’s school If cyberbullying is happening during school hours or via the school’s Internet system, it has an obligation to intervene. If the guidance counsellor is aware of what’s going on, they can better watch out for signs that it may be taking place.

Contact the bully’s parents with evidence of what has been happening. It’s likely they will be upset and shocked at their child’s activities. They may take steps to educate their child on the potential consequences of bullying, and remove their child's Internet access.

Speak to your local police department for guidance if your child is receiving threats or obscene calls or texts, or you feel she is at risk of physical harm.

FInally, if your child is having trouble coping with stress and anxiety brought on by bullying, speak to your GP about the possibility of counselling.

Related links

How can you tell if your child is being bullied? Bullies don't always pick on obvious targets, and your child won't always come home in tears or covered in bruises: things to pick up on if you suspect bullying.

The difference between bullying and friendship problems: what you need to know.

What is my child doing online? You need to know, and government experts CEOP explain how best to keep your child safe while surfing.

Why kids need rules to help them feel secure in the home.


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