deal with it
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
Spot the signs
Your child might be reluctant to tell you that they are worried about cyberbullying so it’s important to look out for the signs:
- Stopping using their electronic devices suddenly or unexpectedly
- Seeming nervous or jumpy when using their devices, or becoming obsessive about being constantly online
- Any changes in behaviour such as becoming sad, withdrawn, angry, or lashing out
- Reluctance to go to school or take part in usual social activities
- Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upsets
- Avoiding discussions about what they’re doing online or who they’re talking to
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
If you become aware that your child is being cyberbullied, there are a number of things you should aim to do straight away.
Talk about it
Create opportunities to talk to your child in a relaxed environment, sometimes it can be less intense if you go for a walk or a drive rather than sitting face-to-face.
- Stay calm and ask them how you can help
- Ask open questions and listen without judging
- Praise them for talking to you
- Don’t take away their devices unless this is what they want, it’s likely to make them angry and increase feelings of sadness and isolation
If your child is upset by something they’ve experienced online but seems to be handling the situation then advice you can give includes:
- It may be tempting but don’t retaliate. This can have unpredictable consequences, can make arguments last longer and make it harder to see who’s in the wrong.
- Shut down arguments online before they take hold. Try not to involve lots of others in online arguments. This includes being careful what they post, what they share, and knowing when to leave a group chat or change the conversation.
- Ask people to take down hurtful or offensive content. Your child may be successful by simply being honest about how they feel, particularly if the perpetrator didn’t meant to cause them harm.
You may feel you can discuss the bullying behaviour with the other child’s parent. Always proceed with caution. It’s natural for a parent to defend their child, so make sure you’re calm and ask for their help to resolve the situation – rather than accusing their child. Remember they may have another side to the story. Your goal should always be to stop the bullying behaviour.
Nobody likes to think that their own child could be a cyberbully, but young people can be sometimes be drawn into this behaviour without realising the impact of their actions. We have tips and advice on what to do if your child is a cyberbully.
If you’re worried and you need help dealing with a cyberbullying situation, there are a number of helplines for parents and carers
Take action online
- Choose to block or unfriend – In some situations it might be best to encourage your child to block or unfriend the person that caused them hurt – particularly if they’re an anonymous user or not known to your child. Your child might be reluctant to do this if they consider the person a ‘friend’ or they know the person from school or the local community. Revisit what it means to be a friend and talk about healthy online relationships.
- Report or flag upsetting content – Most social media platforms give you options for reporting or flagging content that breaches their user guidelines and this is always an option. Be aware that the thresholds for offensive content, the process for reviewing reports and the time it takes to remove content varies according to the social network, game or app.
- Save the evidence – Bullying is repeated behaviour and it can be helpful to keep a record of events in case you need to seek professional help. For example you might want to screen grab offensive content/save messages. It might not help your child to keep seeing these, so offer to keep them somewhere safe for them.
Report it to school
If the person or people doing the bullying are from your child’s school you may want to contact the school about it. It’s natural for your child to worry about what the outcome of this might be and how the school responds will vary depending on their anti-bullying policy. All schools should have a policy, and may have mentors who can help.
Headteacher Vic Goddard on dealing with cyberbullying in a large school environment
Tips to remember
- Your child is the most important person – make sure their needs and wants remain central.
- Keep calm – remember the school may not be aware of what’s happening. Ask to see child’s teacher, tutor, or year head.
- Bring evidence – keep a record of events and any evidence, such as print outs of screen shots, saved messages.
- Be goal orientated – the priority is for the bullying to stop. Consider practical ways that the school can help, for example, talking to students involved or providing your child with support.
- Set date and time to follow up – make sure you leave the meeting / phone call with an agreed day or time to check in on progress made.
- Don’t give up – the school have a legal duty to prevent all forms of bullying.
- Ask for another meeting as a matter of urgency. This time you may want to meet with a senior member of staff.
- Bring your record of action and outcomes and any evidence of further bullying.
- Be goal orientated – what could the school do differently? Is there any additional support they can give your child, for example, counselling services.
- If necessary follow the school complaints process.
- Don’t stop until the bullying stops.
- Develop an action plan to make sure you stay on track.
- Use template letters to get the message across.
Red Balloon support parents of children who have self-excluded due to bullying
Report it to the police
There is not a law against cyberbullying but some cyberbullying activities could be criminal offences under a range of different laws including the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. If the content is sexual, targeted at your child’s ethnicity, gender, disability or sexuality, if threats are being made to harm your child or incite your child to harm themselves, then consider reporting the activity to the police.
Some types of bullying are illegal.
This includes bullying that involves:
- violence or assault
- harassment and intimidation over a period of time including calling someone names or threatening them, making abusive phone calls, and sending abusive emails or text messages (one incident is not normally enough to get a conviction)
- anything involving hate crimes
The response you receive will depend on the nature and severity of the incident, whether it’s likely that a crime has been committed, and whether your child is at risk of harm. You can also contact the Children’s Services department in your local authority.
Experiencing bullying can place a huge strain on a child with links to depression, anxiety and self- harm. As a parent you should always take it seriously and if you have any worries about your child’s mental or physical health see your GP. If you need help talking to them about mental health, then the Mental Health Foundation and Mind have some advice.
Talk to your GP about available support. Many local counselling services offer a sliding scale of cost depending on your family income. It may even be free. This can be quicker than accessing support through your GP. For information of counselling services in your area visit the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and make sure your child knows about ChildLine and other helplines.
Tolga Yildiz from ChildLine explains how they can help children with confidential advice