Advice for Parents & Carers
Learn how cyberbullying can impact a child with additional learning needs and ways to support them if they are affected by cyberbullying.
- Cyberbullying is mostly done by people your child knows
- People can hide behind fake profiles online to avoid being caught
- It often is an extension of what is happening at school or an activity club
- It can reach children at any time and anywhere
- Some children may find it hard to recognise bullying or at times struggle to remember the details of the incident several days later
- Often children with SEND may hide their disability online and take on another persona
- For children with SEND it often takes the form of;
This is hard to spot as often your child may feel that those manipulating her are her friends and may feel pressure to do what her ‘friends’ say because they want to stay part of the group.
“Sara hangs out with a group of classmates. She thinks of them as her friends and is eager to be accepted by them. They ‘let’ her be in their group but manipulate her for their own purposes or entertainment. They might ask her to do errands for them or even steal something from a newsagent for example. Through mobile phones, she might be pressured or filmed doing the task. The group laugh and enjoy their power over her, but she remains within their group.”
This involves a person making your child believe they have a close relationship in order to demand things from them at times in secret. This shows why it’s important to think about their emotional needs rather than simply enforcing rules.
“This is a situation in which a child with special needs may find they are lulled into believing they are in a close friendship or relationship with someone. They do not view them as a stranger, which is why all advice not to talk to strangers is irrelevant. They may believe this is a romantic relationship and agree to share intimate photos or appear in a video, ‘because I wanted to’. There other ways they may be led to believe they are only doing what is usual in a romantic relationship or close friendship.”
This is usually done by someone your child knows very well as it relies on a person knowing to target your child’s triggers to bait them into doing something or getting angry or upset for their entertainment.
“The perpetrator knows exactly how to ‘press their buttons’. They know what makes their target kick off or get upset. This can be sensory, physical, or verbal, leading the young person with special needs to react. They might send them a video with flashing lights and very loud sounds, or messages with key trigger words. The target child often does not understand that they are being bullied and so they do not report this. They may receive messages that frighten them on top of offline taunting day to day in school and threats about what will happen if they tell anyone.”
What’s the problem?
My child is being cyberbullied
Steps to take to support your child
If your child is being cyberbullied, they may find it hard to recognise it or even tell you who is doing the bullying, so it’s important to:
- Be aware of the friends they have online and offline to establish the type of relationships they have to give them the right advice
- Consider why your child may be seeking to retain certain friendships if they appear to be toxic. They may be looking to fulfill an emotional need to be liked or to feel part of a group if they often feel isolated
To help them see that something may be wrong in a relationship:
- Explain the reasons why it may put them at risk
- Redirect their need to feel part of a group or popular through other means, for example setting up a closed friendship group on social media and encouraging family members and genuine friends to ‘like’ their posts
- Think about ways to help them meet other young people in safe environments
- Together explore what a good friend looks like and what the nature of a good relationship is.
Some young people have little idea of what a good relationship looks like and do things they believe are expected. They can be gullible and believe someone who says they love them, even when they are being hurt or manipulated.
If your child says they have received upsetting messages or a situation has developed that has upset them:
- Stay calm ( it will upset them further to see that you are also distressed)
- Thank them for telling you, they did the right thing
- Remind them bullying or aggression is always unacceptable
- Explain that together you will deal with this
- Save the evidence, you will need it to report it and block or restrict the sender
Where should you report it?
- Platform: Most gaming and social platforms will have a way for you to report cyberbullying directly on the platform. Visit Report Harmful Content website for support
- School: If they are being cyberbullied by a school friend, report it to the school. They’ll have a safeguarding officer and a reporting procedure you can use to raise your concerns. Visit the Internet Matters website to learn more
- Police: If the bullying targets their disability, report it to the police as this can be classed as a hate crime.
My child is saying hurtful things to others online
It can be hard to understand the reasons why your child would bully others especially if it’s out of character but it’s important to try and establish the facts around the incident and keep an open mind. Your child might also unintentionally upset friends if they have communication or language difficulties and find it hard to express themselves.
Often as parents, we are blind to the behaviour of our own children so try not to be on the defensive. If you think your child has been unfairly represented then put your concerns in writing to the school or the platform. You can also reach out to specialist organisations and individuals that work as trusted flaggers who can support you in reporting your concerns to the platforms your child is using.
Click here to see which organisation can give you more advice and guidance on this issue.
- Ask them to stop and have an open conversation about the situation.
- Try and find out the reason why to understand how to stop it from happening again. Is it intentional or unintentional behaviour?
- Explain the severity of the issue and the possible consequences ( losing friends, getting school, or even the police involved).
- Empathy: Work with family, the school or trusted adults to help your child understand the impact this could have on the person or people they are targeting.
- Encourage them to exhibit positive behaviour such as respect, and compassion and discourage bullying behaviour by incentivising positive behaviour.
- Be patient and give your child some time to take on board the positive behaviour and show them that they have your support.
- Give your relationship with your child a regular health check. Try to understand their world, their dreams, and their fears.
- Model respectful and caring relationships with others – whether face to face or online. Think about whether there are things your child hears or sees that may be having a negative impact on their behaviour choices.
- Discuss with them the dangers of expressing feelings of hurt or anger online and come up with other ways that they can manage feelings of hurt that won’t have a negative impact on others.
- Talk about the blurred line between uploading and sharing content because it’s funny or might get lots of ‘likes’, versus the potential to cause offence or hurt. A lot of us fall victim to this. Examples are uploading videos of fights among classmates provoked for entertainment.
- Discuss how to respond if they see offensive content online and what might be good, or not so good to share. Ask them how they think it feels to be on the receiving end of cyberbullying and what they can do to help others online that are having a hard time.
My child is struggling to cope with seeing others being cyberbullied
Seeing someone else being cyberbullied can impact your child’s wellbeing if they feel indirectly attacked or lack the tools to offer their support to a friend. Here are some things you can do to help them deal with the situation.
- Encourage your child to tell you or another adult they trust if they see or experience cyberbullying.
- Tell them not to retaliate in any way that is angry, offensive, or threatening, likewise as an adult stay calm and listen without judging.
- Online bullying can be complex, involving a number of people so it’s best to gently explore together what might have happened to have resulted in the upsetting messages or posts.
- Agree on any actions you will take together
- Help your child to report any offensive content they see to the appropriate social media company
- Suggest ideas for how your child might support the person being bullied. They might help them to focus on positive things in their lives and other things that make them happy.
- Celebrate your child’s actions and his/her bravery when they take positive action to support somebody.
- Share the code with their network of friends to encourage them to also be good digital citizens and make an impact to stop cyberbullying.