How do I start a conversation about cyberbullying with my child?

Get expert advice to prepare your child for what they might encounter online and how to begin a conversation to deal with cyberbullying should it happen.

Why is it important to have a conversation?

We’ve all been on the receiving end of difficult conversations and as parents you sometimes have to instigate them at some stage. Cyberbullying is an important subject to talk to your child about regardless of their age, and how you start the conversation is going to depend on a lot of things, including how old and mature your child is.

It’s good to talk

Our children are important and special to us. We want them to grow up in a safe and loving environment and become happy, confident, resilient adults. To get there they need to be surrounded by positive influences, good advice and the knowledge that if they ever need help and support you are there to talk to.

As a parent, it’s you who they’ll look to for help. And, as they’re your child, it’s up to you to talk to them when you think they might need a nudge in the right direction and information that’s going to affect their lives and be important.

Talking about Cyberbullying

Bullying has changed probably since you were young, and while the emotional aspects of bullying continue to be devastating, the internet and social media have changed the way children are experiencing bullying.

I think it helps to remember that you are there to be your child’s parent – NOT their friend and you have a responsibility to keep them safe online, just as you do in real life. They may not like you, or thank you at the moment, but it’s important to jot down a few simple rules that you want your child to follow and for you and your partner to agree to, that will help reduce the chances that your child will be bullied online.

Julia von Weiler

Psychologist & Executive Director
Expert Website

Preparing for a conversation

What should parents consider before having this conversation?

If you believe your child might be a victim of any type of violence, including cyberbullying, it is important to “open the door” to these topics. Children who are being victimized often feel very much ashamed of what is happening and feel parents or adults don’t know what’s going on anyway. In order to make it easier to talk, it is always good to introduce these topics non- threateningly – i.e. discuss a movie, an article, a book you saw about cyberbullying. This way you let children and adolescents know that you know or at least are aware of what is going on.

Feeling victimized brings a lot of shame and pressure to a child. It’s important to give them the space they need to share their experience without fear of what might happen and not to avoid what is going on. Being clear about things helps talk about them.

Your child might also be involved in bullying someone. In this case it is also very important to encourage them to take responsibility for their actions and understand how they can make a positive change for the future.

Creating the right situation

Whatever it is you want to discuss, it’s important to think about where, and how, to talk so your children will listen.

There’s no telling how long the conversation is going to last, so the first thing to consider is where and when you’re going to start it off. And it’s probably not a great idea to have it in the evening when everyone is tired and might not be in the mood to concentrate, or when you are angry or stressed or have a Report or ironing to do!

Unless it’s a chat you want to have with more than one of your children, it’s also sensible to have it at a time when younger brothers and sisters aren’t around to interrupt.

It could be good to have it in a relaxed and neutral place like on a walk or a bike ride or even when you’re in the car.

Starting the conversation

It’s a good idea to jot down what you want to say as it stops you rambling or going on too long, and it also helps you get the important points over clearly.

Also it can be a good idea to try to make the conversation relevant in some way. For example, if you’re watching TV together and the on-screen action has something to do with the subject you want to talk about – say a character is being cyber bullied – you could kick things off by asking your child what they’d do in the same situation.

There are lots of books written specially to help when you don’t know quite how to talk to children about serious subjects like cyberbullying.

It’s also best to think about having a few “bite-sized” conversations over a period of time. It gives your child the time to process what you’ve discussed and avoids the whole thing sounding like a heavy lecture.

Carmel Glassbrook

Helpline Practitioner, Professionals Online Safety Helpline
Expert Website

Other things you can do

Make it part of your daily dialogue and not just a “how was your day?”, dig deeper, what did they get up to at playtime? What friends do they like playing with? What was their favourite lesson & why? The more conversations you have like this the more of an insight you will have into their life, and be able to pick up on problems before they escalate.

Let them know you’re listening and give them your full attention, if you have more than one child, try to find the space and the time for you to have a 1 on 1. If you suspect your child is being bullied, prepare yourself before with solutions and possible answers so you can give them some options about what to do next.

Understand that if your child has been bullied control has been taken from them, so give them some back, don’t force them to sit down and have this conversation with you. Most children will want to tell you what’s going on if approached in the right way, in their own time, so just let them know you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. At some point it may also be nice for you to both read through stories/watch videos of celebs or prominent role models who have had similar experiences and got through them. The being me campaign is a lovely place where stories like this are celebrated and collated.

What can a parent do if a child does not want to discuss the bullying as it may be too painful or embarrassing?

It’s natural for a child to be reticent about telling their parents about bullying. Children often fear that parents will overreact: that they’ll go straight to the school or have it out with the child or parents of the child that are doing the bullying.

There may also be instances where children don’t want their parents to know that they’ve done something, or shared something.  For example, if a child has shared what they thought was a personal message with someone (a message they really wouldn’t want you to read) which has now gone round a group of people.

Make sure your child knows that you are always there for them, promise to stay calm and work together on the solution.  Let them know they don’t have to tell you all the details but enough so you can help. It’s also good to help them think of other people they might be able to reach out to if you’re not around, and to make sure they know about services like Childline.