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How to deal with cyberbullying as a parent or carer

Our advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying includes tips and information on spotting, reporting and dealing with cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying involves using technology to bully or harass others, whether that’s through social media apps or texting. 

As a parent or carer, you’ve probably got plenty of concerns about your child being bullied online. While it’s sadly difficult to stop bullying completely, we want to ensure that you have the best parenting resources and knowledge available so you know how to deal with cyberbullying when it happens.

 

What is cyberbullying?

Any form of anti-social online behaviour or bullying over the internet falls into cyberbullying. With cyberbullying, the difficulty comes from a lack of any relief – while children may dread bullies before going to school, at least at home they can experience some kind of relief. With cyberbullying, the bullying can follow them home.

So while it’s important to empower your child against bullying, it’s equally as important that you understand the signs of cyberbullying.

 

How, when and where does cyberbullying happen?

The difficulty with cyberbullying is that it can happen anywhere, whether your child is at home or school. As long as children have access to the internet, the potential for cyberbullying is there. 

You might be surprised to find that cyberbullying can go beyond just texting and social media – even online gaming can make children a target for cyberbullying. Particularly during activities like this, something your child does to enjoy themselves and de-stress, cyberbullying can be particularly distressing. 

 

The different types of cyberbullying

In order to understand cyberbullying and help your child feel safe online, it’s important to understand what different types of cyberbullying there are. Cyberbullying can include any of the following: 

  • Spreading malicious rumours and gossiping online
  • Emailing or texting threats or intimidating remarks
  • Harassing someone repeatedly 
  • Blackmail
  • Online stalking – this can involve joining the same online groups and forums as the bullying victim to send them abuse and harassment
  • Posting humiliating or embarrassing photos or videos online without consent
  • Posting private details online without consent
  • Mobbing – getting a group together to target a particular person with abuse and harassment online
  • Grooming
  • Setting up false profiles to stalk and harass someone online. 

 

What age group has the highest rate of cyberbullying?

According to research by the Cyber Bullying Research centre, cyberbullying victims tend to peak mostly around the ages of 14-15. It’s also worth keeping in mind that their research shows that the most common age group to engage in cyberbullying were 13-year-olds.

So it’s important to keep in mind that cyberbullying can start quite early on, and it’s good to not only look for signs that your child is being cyberbullied but also whether or not they might be engaging in bullying themselves. Keep an eye out for mood changes and attitudes towards school, particularly if you notice your child often using their phone or spending time online. 

 

What are the consequences of cyberbullying?

Children can already struggle with enough school anxieties, and cyberbullying will only add to that anxiety. It’s also sadly well documented that cyberbullying can lead to self-harm and in extreme cases suicide. 

Academic performance can also suffer as a result of cyberbullying. Often children can resort to avoiding school and struggle with concentration and confidence in classes as a result of cyberbullying.

 

What are the mental effects of cyberbullying?

In the moment cyberbullying is distressing for any child. However, in the long term cyberbullying can leave lasting mental health effects. 

If your child is struggling with their mental health as a result of cyberbullying, take a look at our health and wellbeing resources

 

What is the social impact of cyberbullying?

As a result of cyberbullying children can struggle with: 

  • Making friendships with other children
  • Feeling respected by the peers
  • Become wary and suspicious of others, developing trust issues
  • Struggle adjusting to life at school, and struggle with their studies.

The social problems caused by cyberbullying can have long-term effects on children, as they struggle to adjust to social situations later in life. So it’s important to spot the signs of cyberbullying early on.  

 

Spotting the signs of cyberbullying

There’s no single sign that will explicitly show that your child is going through cyberbullying, however, it’s good to recognise these signs and speak to your child if you notice them: 

  • Being afraid to go to school
  • Telling you they’re “ill” each morning to avoid going to school
  • Poor performance in school
  • Losing confidence and becoming distressed
  • Spending a lot of time with their phone or on the computer, particularly looking at social media
  • Appearing nervous or upset when they receive a text
  • Reluctance to talk about online activity
  • Unexplained depression or anger after having been online or using their phone.

It’s important to keep in mind that while cyberbullying does happen online, it can also move to the real world. So keep an eye out for other signs of bullying in person, such as: 

  • Physical injuries or unexplained bruises
  • Stealing or asking for money (to give to bullies)
  • Belongings getting damaged or lost frequently. 
  • Reluctance to eat or sleep
  • Bullying other children.

 

How to deal with cyberbullying

Dealing with cyberbullying can be difficult, and your child could display any range of emotions as they go through it, but it’s essential to talk to your child about what they’re going through. 

 

Talk to them about cyberbullying

If you’re worried about your child being cyberbullied, talk to them about it. Explain to them what cyberbullying is – there’s a chance they might not even realise that’s what’s happening, or that they’re engaging in it. 

 

Let them know you’re there to help

Your child might be afraid to talk to you about what they’re going through so you’ll likely have to approach them if you’ve spotted signs that they’re possibly being cyberbullied. Once you do talk to them and know that they’re being bullied, be sure to talk to them about it regularly, check-in and remind them you’re there to help.

 

Teach them about online and social media safety

While your child’s school will likely teach them about online safety, it’s worth making sure that they’re absolutely sure they know how to stay safe online and on social media. 

  • Don’t reply to the bully: if your child is being cyberbullied, teach them not to reply on social media as this will just prolong the problem
  • Block messaging from the bully: whether it’s via social media, email or texting, teach your child how to block their bully from being able to message them
  • Keep evidence: while it’s important your child limits contact with their bully, make sure they don’t delete the messages as these can be used as evidence when it comes to reporting their bullying
  • Report the bully to social media platforms: if your child is being bullied on social media, they can usually report it to the social media platform they’re using
  • Report the bully to a trusted parent/carer and the school: your child may think that because cyberbullying is happening online, the school can’t do anything but it’s important the school knows if another student is making your child’s life difficult, even online. 

 

Listen without judgement

We know that children can be scared to open up about bullying, it can be a point of shame for them. So be sure to tell your child that it’s okay to be honest about what’s happening, and listen without judgement. 

That means not telling them that they should’ve stood up for themselves or that they shouldn’t have let something happen, hindsight won’t help at the moment. Instead, tell your child that you’ll hear them out, start to finish. 

From there, suggest what you can do together moving forward. Teach them about the online safety tips they can use to limit contact with the bully, and what they can do about reporting the bully and remind your child that you’re always there to listen and help. 

 

Report hate crimes

If your child is being bullied because of their gender, gender identity, sexuality, religion, race, skin colour or disability, it’s a hate crime and it’s against the law. Teach your child about this, even if you don’t think they’re being bullied – it’s important they know so they can both understand if they’re the victim of a hate crime, and so they don’t engage in hate crimes. 

Your child’s options when they’re the victim of a cyber hate crime are to report it online, call the police on 101 or if it’s an absolute emergency (if they’re being threatened with violence, for example) they can call 999. 

 

Talk to your child’s school

Once you’ve confirmed that your child is being bullied, talked to your child about it and anything they need to know, it’s important that the school knows what’s happening. Your child might be a little reluctant at this step, as they worry that it could lead to further, but reassure them that this is the best way to deal with their bullying problem. 

Remember to bring evidence of cyberbullying: texts, social media messages and posts online. Tell the teacher the effect bullying is having on your child and ask them what action is going to be taken to ensure it doesn’t happen anymore – try to ensure that the teacher does intend to take action, rather than relying entirely on social media blocking to resolve the cyberbullying problem. 

 

How to report cyberbullying

Reporting cyberbullying of any severity is important in trying to make sure it doesn’t carry on. So, be aware of the ways to report cyberbullying:

 

Report it on social media

Social media platforms have built-in reporting functions that will trigger an investigation into someone’s account activity if they’re reported. If your child is being bullied online, they can either report specific messages or comments on their social media pages or report an entire account depending on what’s happening.

For example, if someone has set up a fake account specifically to bully your child or others, that account can be reported and investigated. 

 

Report it in gaming

Sadly, even online gaming can lead to cyberbullying. This is difficult as gaming, generally, is a source of joy for children that play video games. So experiencing cyberbullying through online gaming can be distressing. 

However, just like with social media, abusive messages through online gaming can be reported and action will be taken against the bully (that can include a temporary or permanent ban from the service).

 

Reporting bullying videos shared online

As soon as your child becomes aware of a bullying video that has been shared online, it needs to be reported to the site the video is being posted on as quickly as you can. You can either use built-in reporting on the video or send a link to the site administrator in an email and explain that it needs to be taken down.

 

Report it to the police

It might seem trivial at first but cyberbullying is serious and can very quickly become dangerous, particularly if it’s ignored. If your child is being threatened or groomed, you can report it to the police. If you are worried about the severity of the bullying and contacting the police, you can call 101 rather than going straight to 999. 

 

Report cyberbullying to the school

As with any form of bullying, schools need to know when one of their students is being bullied. Particularly if that student is being bullied by another student in their school, they can then take direct action and educate students on the dangers of cyberbullying. If your child is being bullied by a student from another school, it’s still important to let your child’s school know as they can get in touch with the school in question. You could also get in touch with the school directly yourself.

 

Cyberbullying safety tips

While preventing cyberbullying completely is sadly a bit of an uphill struggle, just a few safety tips can help reduce the risk of your child going cyberbullying, or help manage it if they do: 

  • Keep your computers in the living spaces in your home, or somewhere you can easily keep an eye on what your child is doing – you can easily recognise any changes in behaviour when they go online this way
  • Try to keep yourself informed on how social media sites work even if you don’t use them yourself, particularly their built-in reporting functions
  • Remember to always keep evidence of cyberbullying – learn how to take screenshots with a phone or on your computer  
  • Build trust with your child on the issue, remind them it’s okay to talk to you about anything and be sure to listen when they do – don’t tell them what they should’ve done in a situation, but advise on what you’ll do together going forward
  • Don’t automatically take away their phone or access to the internet – this won’t stop the bullying from happening and can potentially make your child feel more isolated and feel like they’ve done something wrong
  • Do try to encourage limits on screen time and social media use, it’s always healthy for your child to get offline once in a while
  • Be ready to talk to their school, other parents and potentially local services about bullying
  • Encourage your child to report and not respond to any negative messages
  • Let your child know that being a victim of bullying, online or offline, is not their fault.

 

Anti-bullying resources 

If you want to understand more about bullying, how to prevent and manage it and how to report serious bullying incidents, here are some useful resources: