Cyberbullying is when someone bullies others over the internet or on a mobile phone by sending abusive emails or texts directly or by posting nasty comments or humiliating images for others to see.
Like any form of bullying, cyberbullying can be horrible for the children involved and hard for them to talk about.
How is cyberbullying different from other bullying?
One of the biggest differences between cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying is that it can be hard to get away from. Young people could be bullied anywhere, anytime – even when they’re at home.
Cyberbullying can have a large audience too. Posts on social networks, emails or group chats can be seen by lots of people very quickly.
Cyberbullies can also remain anonymous, by using fake profiles on social networking sites or blocking their phone numbers. This can make it harder to identify the bullies, but texts and other messages can be saved as proof of the bullying.
A good introduction to the topic and tips on what to do if cyberbullying affects your child.
What are the most common ways of cyberbullying?
Signs of cyberbullying
When children are being cyberbullied, they can find it very difficult to talk about. Research suggests that many children who are being cyberbullied don’t tell their parents, so it’s important to know how to recognise the signs. They can be hard to spot, but here are some things to look out for:
- stopping using the computer suddenly or unexpectedly
- seeming nervous or jumpy when an instant message, text message or email appears
- avoiding school or socialising in general
- being angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer
- avoiding discussions about what they are doing on the computer
- becoming withdrawn from friends and family members.
Is my child a cyberbully?
No parent wants to think of their child bullying someone else. But young people who may have never bullied anyone face-to-face can get drawn into cyberbullying, sometimes without realising that is what they are doing. It is important to be aware that:
- children might say things online that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face
- they might take part in a mean conversation on a social network without knowing how the recipient may feel
- most children who have directed a mean or cruel comment to someone online don’t consider it cyberbullying.
Preventing your child from cyberbullying
Talking to your children about cyberbullying is as important as talking to them about any other type of bullying. Children who are being cyberbullied usually find it difficult to talk about it and it can be an upsetting, awkward and difficult subject for parents too.
Try to have as open and honest a relationship with your child as possible. Make sure they know they can talk to you if anyone ever upsets them over the internet or on their mobile phone, and give them the space to talk about anything that’s upsetting them without being judgemental or getting upset.
If you find it hard communicating with your child about cyberbullying, you’re not alone. These tips are a good place to start:
Ask obvious questions
Start conversations with open, honest questions about what they’ve been doing online and who they’ve had messages from.
Listen without judging
Your child might worry that you’ll think they’re weak or will be angry at them or that you might want to talk to the person and make it worse for them. Be sensitive to their feelings and reassure them that it is not their fault.
Tell them you can help
Tell your child that you’re there to support them, and that there are things that can be done to help them.
Praise them for talking to you
Let them know that they’ve done the right thing. It’s very hard for children to talk about being bullied.
Be careful not to show any anger you might be feeling. Keep calm, try not to interrupt and ask them to tell you about what’s happening in their own words. And do not retaliate by contacting the bully or any other people involved.
How to stop cyberbullying situations
What should I do if my child is being cyberbullied?
If your child tells you they’re being cyberbullied, the first and most important thing to do is give them your full emotional support. Once you’ve reassured them that you’re going to work together to solve the problem, there are some practical steps you should take:
Ask them not to reply
Cyberbullies are looking for a reaction, so make sure your child knows that by deciding not to reply they are making an active choice not to give power to the bully.
Keep the evidence
Sit down with your child and make a written record of what’s happened. Gather evidence by saving texts and printing out emails and screen shots of social network activity.
Block the bullies
Use the built-in tools on social networks and mobile services to block anyone who is cyberbullying your child. That might mean removing them from a ‘friends’ list or blocking their calls or messages. You can also set restrictions on games consoles to prevent them chatting to gamers they don’t know.
Don’t deny access to technology
One of the main reasons that young people don’t report cyberbullying is because they’re worried that their devices could be taken away from them. Moderate your child’s use of the device instead.
Here Alex Holmes, Anti-Bullying Programme Manager at The Diana Award explains the key facts about cyberbullying and how you can help your child if they’re affected.
What should I do if I think my child is bullying others?
If you find out or suspect your child is a cyberbully, or has posted negative comments about someone, you need to talk to them and ask them to stop immediately. These tips may help you:
Try to find out why
Ask them whether there is a reason they are acting this way and try to resolve any issues to stop it happening. Encourage them to think about how they would feel if the comments were about them.
Explain the severity
Tell them that this is unacceptable behaviour and they could end up losing friends, being reported to their school or even the police.
Share your concerns
Work with your family, other trusted adults and their teacher to send clear messages to your child about the impact this could have on them and the person or people they are targeting.
Report it to the website
If content has been posted to a website or social network that is upsetting your child, contact the website. Each site has its own way of reporting cyberbullying. Follow these links to report cyberbullying on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
Speak to their teachers
Cyberbullying usually takes place between people who know each other, so it’s worth telling your child’s school that something is going on. All schools in the UK should have anti-bullying policies in place so talk to yours as soon as possible and make sure they are at least aware of the situation.
Tell the authorities
Cyberbullying itself is not a crime but in serious cases other laws may apply. If you think a crime has been committed or believe your child is in danger, contact the police.
If you, your child or someone else you know has been affected by cyberbullying there are lots of places to go for further information, advice and guidance. We recommend these sites, organisations and reports:
A cyberbullying resource which explains the different forms of cyberbullying, their impact on children and importantly what parents, carers and schools can do to help a child deal with it.
The Diana Award Anti-Bullying Ambassador Programme offers training to young people, staff, and parents to help them tackle bullying in schools and communities.
Help! My child is a cyberbully by Lauren Seager-Smith of ABA
Understanding the emotions behind cyberbullying by Catherine Knibbs, Child trauma therapist
Is your child a target or a cyberbully by Alex Holmes of Anti-Bullying Pro
Managing a teen’s digital life: tips for parents by Luke Roberts
BBC Webwise article: Shona McGarty: how to beat online bullies
- Ofcom Children and parents: media use and attitudes report (Nov 2015) p.141 Figure 99
- Tech knowledge: How Children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. Pg.31
- Tech knowledge: How Children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. Pg.24