How to encourage children to report cyberbullying among friends

When cyberbullying happens among friends, it can be difficult for a child to report the behaviour. They might fear the repercussions in their friendship group, but it’s important they feel secure enough to act. Experts Alan Mackenzie and Karl Hopwood weigh in on how parents can support their children if they are being cyberbullied among friends.

Alan Mackenzie

Online Safety Specialist
Expert Website

What is the best way to encourage children to report cyberbullying even if it’s happening between friends?

As parents, one of the most important messages we give to children and young people when they are experiencing any form of harmful behaviour is to report it. But for such a simple message, it isn’t always successful.

When I was bullied at school, there were two overwhelming feelings: shame because I thought I was the problem, so I couldn’t report it to anyone, and fear because some of those doing the bullying were so-called friends and I worried about what would happen if I ‘snitched’ on them.

But unlike when I was at school and could go home to get away from the bullying, modern-day bullying can be relentless, particularly if it’s online.

Children and young people don’t always realise the immediate and long-term consequences of bullying behaviour on others, such as the impact on self-esteem and confidence. It can affect schoolwork, exams, relationships and much more, and the overwhelming emotional feelings can stay with a person for many years.

When friends are involved, it’s often seen as banter rather than bullying, so I find one of the best strategies when talking about behaviours such as this is to discuss empathy, putting others in the shoes of the person who is being bullied. This helps others to understand the overwhelming feelings of shame, fear, reduced confidence and more. How would they feel if this was happening to them? Would they expect their friends to do something about it and if so, what?

Karl Hopwood

Independent online safety expert
Expert Website

What is the best way to encourage children to report cyberbullying even if it’s happening between friends?

Cyberbullying can be a significant problem for children and young people. It can take many different forms and, unfortunately, often goes unreported. This is because young people express concerns that adults can’t help; they are worried that the perpetrator will find out that they reported them, which could make things worse, or they fear that they will be banned from their favourite game or social media platform because of what is happening to them. They worry about losing control of the situation and finding that adults overreact.

It is important to listen to children and young people when they do come to report cyberbullying – what do they want to happen? What are their views? In some cases, they will know the person who is upsetting them.

Many talk of banter and, of course, there is a fine line here. Ultimately, if children and young people are upset by something that happens online, they need to seek help and support, ideally from parents or teachers (or another trusted adult) but also from the social media or gaming platforms themselves. They can also make use of helplines such as RHC or the NSPCC.

If they think telling someone is going to result in an immediate ban (in an effort to safeguard them), then they won’t speak to anyone, which could result in the problem getting worse. Good channels of communication are crucial, and an adult will be able to suggest ways of starting a conversation with the friend who is behind the cyberbullying.