Cyberbullying affects kids all over the world every day. Bullies used to be a threat in the schoolyard, but they’ve taken their hurtful behaviour to the internet and can pop up anywhere, anytime — making them much harder to identify and avoid. Cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality in today’s hyperconnected world and it’s crucial that parents educate children on how to recognise cyberbullies and respond effectively.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying using electronic communication — email, texts, social media and more — and has become an increasingly common internet threat. Though similar to regular bullying, cyberbullying takes the trauma one step further by allowing aggressors to follow the victim wherever they go. Virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime can bully another person by simply jumping on the internet or using a cell phone — making cyberbullies harder to escape or identify.
It’s crucial to talk openly to children about cyberbullying. Communicate what they need to watch out for and how best to handle cyberbullying if they become a target — or if they witness someone else being cyberbullied. Here are some useful guidelines to help manage cyberbullying:
- Don’t respond. If someone bullies your child, remember that a reaction is what they want. Don’t empower bullies — your child should never engage with them.
- Block and don’t share. Your child should block anyone sending hurtful messages. Screen all calls and texts and, if necessary, temporarily suspend social media accounts. Never share hurtful messages that are passed on by others.
- Record everything. Tell your child to take screenshots, save hurtful messages and show them to a trusted adult who can help them.
- Be an upstander. Not a bystander. This might mean standing up for others who are being bullied, saying something to the bully or those involved, and reporting incidents to a trusted adult. Speak up to show that you care and want to help.
- Don’t participate. Never take part in bullying others. Children need to be careful about what they say, share, post or blog about others — unintentional bullying is still bullying! Reading or sharing mean messages empowers bullies and hurts victims even more. It could also get your child in trouble at school or with the police.
- Privacy is prevention. Make sure your child’s online presence is as private as possible. Check accounts and make sure privacy settings are correctly enabled at all times.
- Report abuse. Most service providers have rules posted on cyberbullying. Work with your child to report any incidents. You can find information on how to report abuse on the community guidelines of most sites.
- Talk about it. Encourage your child to discuss with you or a trustworthy friend what they might be experiencing. Others might have gone through a similar experience and be able to provide helpful advice. Don’t let children suffer in silence.
Take action to combat bullies
It´s important that parents and children respond without delay when cyberbullying occurs. As noted, children should always speak up and inform parents or a teacher if they are targeted or if they witness others being bullied. Take these steps as quickly as possible to address the problem:
- Never reply to hurtful messages, but do not ignore or simply delete them.
- Save bullying texts, posts and emails as a record of what is happening.
- Report the ID online and block the cyberbully from any further interaction.
- Escalate the issue to your child’s school or to the police if necessary.
Recognise the signs of trouble
Parents should always be vigilant — watching out for signs of a child being cyberbullied. Their behaviour in the wake of hurtful messages or interactions can be revealing, so keep your eyes open to the following:
- Showing unexpected anger, depression or frustration after using any device — or suddenly avoiding devices all together.
- Uneasiness about going to school or participating in group or team activities.
- Abnormally withdrawing from friends and family members.
Cyberbullying is a real and pervasive problem in today’s connected world, and it can harm a young person's feelings, self–esteem, reputation and mental health. That makes it crucial for parents and young people to do all they can to recognise and respond quickly to all hurtful behaviour. Stay aware of what your child is doing and experiencing online and maintain close regular communication with them to identify and combat cyberbullying.