We live in a world where we are connected to devices 24/7. New technology, websites and apps come out every day and so now more than ever it’s important for us all to understand how to keep safe online and what to do if your child experiences cyberbullying or indeed engages in cyberbullying.
Why parents should be aware of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is using technology to abuse, harass or humiliate someone over the internet and could include using a mobile phone, sending messages over social media or sharing images. As cyberbullying can follow a young person beyond the school gates, into their home, even their bedroom, it can be hard to escape.
Believe your child but get all the facts first
It can be upsetting if you are a parent and your child tells you they’re being bullied online, but try not to rush in. You’re right to believe and listen to them, but whilst you’re praising them for doing the right thing and speaking to you, try to remain calm and focussed.
Get all the facts first! Don’t take over the problem. The chances are your child has been worrying about this for some time and possibly been reluctant to speak out. Their biggest fear may be that if they speak out the problem will get ten times worse. Don’t let them feel that way.
Let’s see what we can do
Instead of taking over the problem, work with them to help them feel like they still have some power and control over what is happening. This will help them develop their problem solving skills and confidence. Tell them ‘Let’s see what we can do about this’.
Report but don’t retaliate
Bullying online is not ok. Report it. Every website, mobile phone company, games console or platform has a way of reporting abuse. However, encourage your child not to retaliate. Getting a reaction is exactly what the cyberbullies want. The bullies are in the wrong, and while it’s hard, the last thing you want is for your child to get drawn into bullying behaviour. Instead, get them to take the power back by blocking the bullies. This should stop further abuse/unwanted contact.
I’d always advise parents to save any evidence as keeping a record of any bullying is vital. If the bullying is very serious, including threatening behaviour, you could involve the police.
Sit down together and review your child’s friend list. Are they really friends? If the cyberbullying is between school friends, advice from the Department for Education states that schools can and should deal with the issue of cyberbullying between two pupils, so don’t be afraid to request this if it is serious or report it to the police.
If you find out your child is cyberbullying, don’t panic
We all say things that we don’t mean and on the internet, it’s easy to get brave, and say things that you would never say to someone’s face. It’s important that they understand that what they are doing is bullying and they need to stop. As parents you can help give them this important message.
Find out why but explain why not
Remain calm, we all make mistakes, the important thing is learning from them. Listen to your child, don’t jump in and blame them – find out the facts. There’s likely to be a reason they are acting this way. Try to find out what the situation is, and how it’s making them feel. Perhaps they are on the receiving end of online abuse?
Help them to understand the impact of their words online or offline and the digital footprint that their behaviour leaves. The last thing you and they want is for their online behavior to continue and for this to be shared, amplified and confront them in their later life.
Seek out support
It can be as upsetting for you as a parent as it is for your child when they realise the consequences of their actions. Don’t be afraid to use your support network – think about friends, family and even school staff that you could be speak to. The chances are other families or friends have gone through similar situations.
Removing access may exacerbate the problem
Learning about the technology your child uses especially if you learn together will help you both be confident about managing and understanding any risks. Although it can be really tempting to remove your child’s access to the internet or a device, I wouldn’t say that this is the answer. It will only isolate them further.
The best thing you can do as a parent is to keep talking so that your child knows they can come to you and work together to solve any problem, worry or concerns online or offline.