How likely will cyberbullying happen to my child and how can I protect them?

Parenting in the digital age brings a new set of challenges that include issues such as cyberbullying. Our experts offer advice on how you can help your child deal with it.

Julia von Weiler

Psychologist & Executive Director
Expert Website

How likely is it to happen to my child?

Unfortunately, many studies show that between 20 and 50 percent of children report being affected by cyberbullying. Thinking about it that means almost every child is somehow affected – either being bullied him/herself, knowing someone who is being bullied or being part of the group that bullies another child.

For this reason, it is important to be involved in your child’s digital life – and to understand how digital devices, social networking sites and messenger apps have changed bullying. It has made it easier for the bullies to get to their victims and difficult to get away from with the 24-hour nature of the internet.

Dealing with cyberbullying on social media

Blocking, reporting can help but is there anything more that parents can instruct a child to do to deal with a situation of bullying as it happens?

The best but also hardest advice to follow is – talk about it openly right away. Don’t keep quiet – if you voice yourself you take away from the power of the bullies. Go find allies right away, get help from friends, parents, teachers – don’t think you have to deal with this on your own and most importantly, don’t believe the terrible things bullies say about you. It reflects more on them than it does on you. Know you are not alone and help is around the corner.

When did it become acceptable to think that cyberbullying is part of life and growing up?

Cyberbullying is never acceptable – but like with all forms of bullying there can be a temptation to write it off as a rite of passage that all young people should expect to go through.  There might be a tendency to think that somehow children and teens bring it upon themselves by spending too much time online and sharing too much of their lives with others.

Children don’t tend to distinguish between their relationships on and offline – conversations are often carried from school, online and back again. But in the online world, there is less adult supervision and it is all too common to see or hear content that is more likely to be challenged face to face (e.g. racist words and homophobic views). The fact is we all live an increasing amount of our lives online – and we have a collective responsibility to clean up our act and take action against cyberbullying and abuse.

What can I do if my child doesn’t want to talk about being bullied?

Creating a safe space to talk

Most children tend to blame themselves if they have been bullied and think that talking about it will make it worse as you’ll go ‘all guns blazing’ into school or online to sort it out. So reassure your child, as in all aspects of their life, that you are there for them, no matter what, and create an open and healthy space to chat through anything that might be worrying them.

Reassure them that it’s never their fault and bullies must never be allowed to get away with it.

Repeated bullying causes severe emotional harm and can erode a child’s self-esteem and mental health. Whether bullying is verbal, physical, relational, or online the long-term effects are equally harmful.

Learning the warning signs

So it’s time to get savvy and learn the warning signs of cyberbullying, remembering that bullying is always intentional, mean-spirited, & rarely happens only once and there is always a power imbalance. The victim cannot hold their own and will often need adult help.

So talk and teach your child about how to stay safe online and encourage them to come to you if they find themselves feeling out of their depth or distressed.

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