A parental guide to cyber bullying

 What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying – the process of using technology to bully. Bullying is purposeful, involves repeated acts and an imbalance of power. It may involve the sending of threats, the spreading of rumours, teasing, taunting, social exclusion, physical attacks and more. Cyber bullying is very similar to face-to-face bullying except, due to the nature of technology, it can be hard to get away from as it could occur via email, text, on a game, social network, app or any other digital medium.

 

Why do people cyber bully?

There are lots of reasons people bully. Sometimes bullies have been bullied before and know no different. Sometimes bullies are going through stressful situations themselves and take this stress out on others – they use it as a way of coping with what they’re going through. Some bullies report having difficult home lives and some report not having secure relationships with friends.

People may use the Internet to send abusive and hurtful messages as it’s an easy option and the distance involved means that they can’t see how much they’re hurting others. Some may bully as they perceive it to be fun.

No matter the reason, bullying is never OK. Harassment or threatening behaviour could be against the law.

How can I help prevent cyber bullying?

Help prevent cyber bullying by getting involved with what your children are doing online. Ask them who they’re chatting with and how, check that they understand that they are responsible for what they write online and ask them questions related to how they respond to threatening or upsetting messages.

Cyber bullying may be prevented if children chat with their friends only, are wary about communicating with strangers and block anyone who is starting to send them messages that worry them.

You may also find it beneficial to limit the amount of time your children spend online / spend using technology. Too much exposure to technology can damage real-life relationships.

How can I teach my child to respond positively to cyber bullying?

Children should learn to deal with online bullying by:

  • Not responding, as responses can fuel the fire
  • Reporting or flagging the messages, if possible
  • Saving the evidence – it will be useful later
  • Blocking the bully
  • Gaining support from a trusted adult: you, a teacher or even Childline if, for some reason, they can’t talk to someone face-to-face

I’ve found out that my child is being bullied – help!

Firstly, don’t panic. Keep calm and help reassure your child that you’ll do your best to help them. Tell your child that it’s not their fault. Don’t respond to the messages or retaliate as this can make things worse; instead, try to find out why the bullying occurred and what your child did in response. Praise them if they sought advice from an adult independently and didn’t reply to the messages.

Don’t remove their access to technology unless you feel that they are at risk. Removing their devices may seem like a quick win, but this act alone may stop them from talking to you in the future about similar situations as they will worry that they’ll lose their access again.

To solve the situation, and depending on what happened, you may wish to:

  • Contact the bully’s parents directly to discuss what happened and the steps to a resolution
  • Report the bullying to the service provider or company behind the app or website
  • Seek advice and support from your child’s school, particularly if the bullying has affected your child’s learning or behaviour at school
  • Seek advice from the police, particularly if the bullying continues or you can’t work out who’s sending the messages

Cyber bullying can have devastating consequences, so be sure to support your child after the incident. Talk to them lots, tell them again that it wasn’t their fault and go through the ‘How can I teach my child to respond positively to cyber bullying?’ steps above to help prevent future bullying. You may wish to get counselling for your child if the bullying has majorly affected their self-esteem.

What if my child is cyber bullying?

Finding out that your child has been bullying can be difficult. Firstly, take the situation seriously, but remain calm and composed. Make sure that your child understands the severity of their actions and that you won’t tolerate behaviour like this. It may be beneficial to ask your child how they would have felt if they had received the messages that were sent and about how this would have affected their self-image and confidence. Ask them to think about how they are going to apologise to their victim and show you that they aren’t going to repeat the behaviour. After this, it will probably benefit you to get more involved in your child’s online behaviour and to set some rules to help them be clear about their responsibilities when using technology.

As mentioned above, there’s often a cause for bullying, so you may want to talk to your child about any difficulties that they are facing. What caused them to bully? Are they struggling at school? Has someone been bullying them? You may find that your child’s bullying is a cry for help and that they need support with dealing with their emotions. You may also find that they’re low and need building up. If this is the case, spend time with them doing what they do well to help build their self-esteem or try new activities with them to find out what they’re good at. If you continue to worry about your child’s behaviour, speak to a doctor or a counsellor.

Remember that change takes time and that you need to lead by example.

Who can I talk to if I need further support?

Contact Family Lives on 0808 800 2222 if you’d like to talk to someone about bullying.