Your mobile rings – it’s your son’s Headteacher calling to say your child has been involved in a bullying incident. Your heart starts beating, faster. Your sense of indignation and anger rises. Who could have done such a thing to your child? What are the school going to do about it?
Then you hear the dreaded words: “Mrs Smith, your son posted malicious, offensive, sexual content online about another pupil.”
Having had experience supporting parents of children that have been bullied, and those that have been accused of bullying others – it’s fair to say that both situations are devastating for parents.
If it’s your child that has been involved in bullying others it can make you feel like your parenting is being brought into question and that you are also on trial.
What is the likelihood that it may happen to you?
It’s a scary thought but the online world that we now share means that this is probably more likely to happen to you now as a parent than 10 years ago. Why? Because it is so much easier for children and teenagers – indeed for any of us – to mess up online.
Cyberbullying is different from traditional forms of bullying in that it has a tendency to involve a lot more people, whether as bullies, victims, or followers.
By its very nature it carries a crowd. With every post or tweet potentially reaching a global public while causing pain and offence at a very personal level.
But there are steps you can take. As parents you remain the biggest, single influence in your child’s life, even if at times it may not feel like it. This includes their online life so even if you don’t understand the online worlds they inhabit, or the technology they’re using, you still have the power to influence how they feel about themselves; how they treat others, and their behaviour choices.
My advice to parents
- Give your relationship with your child a regular health check. Try to understand their world, their dreams and their fears. Show them every day how much you love them, spending time together as a family when you can.
- 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. This includes prejudicial attitudes towards others (e.g. racism, homophobia, sexism and attitudes toward disability).
- Think about whether there are areas of your child’s life that could be causing them hurt or distress. Help them manage feelings of anger or frustration. Discuss with them the dangers of expressing feels 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. We could do with a 10 second timer on content before it’s shared, so we have time to change our minds!
- Explain what bullying and cyberbullying is to your child. Talk about the things they might see or read online. 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 receiving end of cyber bullying and what they can do to help others online that are having a hard time.
If you are that parent in receipt of the dreaded phone call, don’t beat yourself up. Try and establish the facts around the incident and keep an open mind. Often as parents we are blind to the behaviour of our own children so try not to be on the defensive. If you do think your child has been unfairly represented then put your concerns in writing to the school and seek advice.
Above all help your child learn from what has happened. Think about what you could do differently as a parent or as a family and share your learning with other parents and carers. I believe that it is only by taking collective responsibility for cyberbullying that we’ll stop it so as a parent or carer don’t ever underestimate your force for good!