How can cyberbullying affect my child’s mental health?

If your child has experienced cyberbullying or has been exposed to it, our experts are on hand to give you advice on how you can support them if it has affected their mental health.

Katie Collett

Katie Collett

Senior Anti-Bullying Project Manager, The Diana Award

Expert Website

What are the key signs that parents should watch out for if a child’s mental health has been affected by cyberbullying?

Bullying can make young people feel angry, isolated and upset, and can have a detrimental impact on their mental health. It can be difficult for parents to know if their child is being bullied, but some signs to look out for include:

Becoming upset or withdrawn, especially after looking at their phone, computer or device

Being afraid to go to school or skipping school

Suddenly stopping using their phone or computer

Fear of missing out and of being missed online; excessive use of devices

If your child is being cyberbullied, make sure they know that they can talk to you at any time. These steps can help you build up their confidence and self-esteem:

Listen to them and ask them how they’d like to deal with the situation

Monitor their progress – ask them how school has gone and check in regularly with a teacher to see how they are getting on during the day

When your child is at home try to highlight their strengths and do activities which they enjoy

Research the social media platforms your child uses and understand how they can use the block and report tools to deal with cyberbullying

For more information visit www.antibullyingpro.com or Young Minds also have a Parents Helpline: 0808 802 5544

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If a child mental health has been significantly impacted by cyberbullying what are the immediate steps that parents should take?

Go to your GP. If your child had a broken leg you’d be straight to A&E and mental health is no different. Don’t be embarrassed or scared. Bullying can cause anxiety and depression and the sooner you get help the better. Let your child know that you love them unconditionally and acknowledge how the bullying has made them feel. Be patient and create opportunities to connect – even if they’re quiet and withdrawn they need you more than ever.

Encourage them to break contact with the people that are hurting them and spend time (whether it’s face to face or online) with people that make them feel good about themselves. Gentle exercise each day like going for a walk can really help, and any activity that helps them feel calmer.

Help them think about other people that can be a support and encourage them to share how they’re feeling with these people even if they can’t talk to you. Talk together about what needs to happen for the bullying to stop and whether it is worth approaching their school or college for help. Let them know that this will pass and together you will get through it.

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Martha Evans

Martha Evans

National Coordinator, Anti-bullying Alliance

Expert Website

What steps can parents take for children whose wellbeing is affected by cyberbullying particularly if they are a disabled child/child with SEN?

We know bullying (including cyberbullying) can have a significant impact on a child’s self-esteem. Bullying often targets an aspect of someone’s life, for example, your appearance or a disability. This can be really damaging to how young people feel about themselves. It’s important that when cyberbullying happens that you work to support your child and ensure their wellbeing is not adversely affected.

Make sure you emphasise your child’s strengths, reassure them that you love them and that the cyberbullying is not their fault. Try not to control and monitor their online behaviour too much – this might make them less likely to feel able to talk to you about their experiences online. Instead, have open conversations about online behaviour so they know they can talk to you. Keep checking in with them and ask them if they’re ok. If you are worried about your child’s mental health, take them to speak to a doctor and your child’s school.

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If a child is suffering the mental effects of cyberbullying but are unwilling to talk to their parents, how can parents support their child?

Opening up about being bullied isn’t easy- a child may feel anxious about making things worse, upsetting you and may even feel worried that you’ll judge them. As such it’s important that you send the message as consistently as possible that you are there to listen and support- here are 4 things you can do that will help:

Help kids understand bullying.  Especially now that so many of our children’s social interactions are digital it’s important that you speak to your kids about appropriate and inappropriate on-line behaviour and encourage them to talk about things that make them feel worried or uncomfortable.

Check in often.   Whether it’s on the drive to school, a chat over dinner or a recap of the day when they’re in bed it’s really important to keep communication open so make sure you connect with each of your children every single day. Your child may not share vulnerable emotions every time you interact but if you set up enough regular opportunities to be together, it will happen.

Don’t be judgemental– one of the things that stop kids from opening up is the worry that they’ll be judged, The best way to get around this is to be a good listener.  Don’t rush to find solutions, instead really listen to how the situation makes your child feel, ask them what they think they should do and only then offer advice.

Think about how you ask questions. If you want your child to open up, you need them to feel safe so be aware that questions that begin with “Why” as these often make kids defensive; “Why did you post that photo?” won’t work nearly as well as “Why do you think people tend to post the photos they do?”

Make sure that they know that there is a solution to every problem.  Bullying can make a person feel trapped and hopeless so it’s vital that you imbue your kids with the idea that they can cope, that you will support them and that the issues will be resolved.  Modelling strength and positivity will help them see their situation as more manageable and help them see themselves as more resilient.

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