This mum’s story reinforces the need to talk and take an active role in a child’s digital life as she shares her daughter’s battle with self-harm after being cyberbullied.
Giving a child their first smartphone
When her youngest daughter Lily was 10, she wanted a mobile phone and social media accounts. “It wasn’t something I was completely comfortable with, but I agreed because all her friends had accounts, and I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch as they moved to different high schools,” explains Lisa.
Changes in behaviour
At first, everything went well, and Lily enjoyed sharing updates on Instagram and Snapchat. However, over the next 18 months, Lisa noticed that Lily was becoming more withdrawn and irritable. Then, when Lily was 12, her parents discovered that she had been self-harming.
“It was a horrible shock,” says Lisa. “We talked it through with her, but Lily said she didn’t know why she was doing it.”
Seeking professional help
Lily’s parents took her to see the GP several times over the next few months but were not able to get to the bottom of the issue. “We were basically just told to go online, and talk to the school,” says Lisa. “We did that, but it was so hard to find out what was the right thing to do. We just kept talking to Lily.”
Impact of cyberbullying on child
In January this year, Lily was admitted to hospital after attempting suicide. It was only then that Lily was able to tell her family that she had been cyber-bullied for over two and a half years. The issue was reported to the police and school, and the bullies were expelled, and Lily is now recovering, slowly.
Looking out for signs and talking together are key
The whole incident has been hugely traumatic for the whole family, and Lisa says they now take cyber-bullying and online behaviour much more seriously. “I now check Lily’s phone on a nightly basis and ensure that any potentially derogatory messages are quickly dealt with. My biggest regret is not pushing Lily to talk openly with us, and that we left her unsupervised on the Internet.”
With hindsight, Lisa feels that she was naïve about cyber-bullying, even though she herself uses the Internet regularly. “I think now it’s essential that we do everything we can to educate parents and caregivers,” she says. “Our children can’t always talk to us, so it’s important that parents know the signs to look out for, and what steps we can take to keep our children safe.”