Cyberbullying can be hard to spot, so it’s important to know what it is, what signs to look for and how to help your child. This essential guide to cyberbullying explains.
Cyberbullying: what you need to know
Cyberbullying is when a person uses digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harrass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person.
Cyberbullying happens in lots of different ways – by mobile phone, text messages, email, online games or through sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr and so on.
Examples of cyberbullying include:
- posting or sending messages that threaten people or put people down
- leaving people out of online games or social forums
- spreading rumours online about a person
- setting up an unkind or unpleasant fake social networking account using real photos and contact details
trolling or stalking someone online
- sharing or forwarding another person’s personal information
- posting insulting or embarrassing photos or videos of another person
- harassing other people in virtual environments or online games.
Cyberbullying can happen at any time of the day or night, anywhere there’s internet or mobile access.
If your child has a disability, or is experiencing a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety, this can make him more vulnerable to bullying.
Cyberbullying is harmful. It’s never cool, funny or OK. But it might help to know that only a minority of teenagers (about 20%) has engaged in bullying or been bullied. This means that most teenagers are using the internet happily and responsibly.
Effects of cyberbullying
Children and teenagers who experience cyberbullying can end up being bullied at school. Cyberbullying often leaves teenagers with low self-esteem, less interest in school and low academic achievement.
Children and teenagers might feel alone, lonely and isolated. Cyberbullying can also lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Some victims of cyberbullying feel they have no safe place.
Helping your child avoid cyberbullying
Here are some things you can do to help make cyberbullying less likely to happen to your child:
Agree on clear rules about when your child can use her mobile phone, computer or tablet. Cyberbullying often happens at night in text messages. It's best if you agree to switch off all devices at night and leave them in a family area.
Talk about cyberbullying with your child when he first starts to use social networking sites, or when he gets a mobile phone. Talk about what cyberbullying looks like, how it might feel to be cyberbullied and the consequences it can have. Tell your child never to pass along or reply to bullying material.
Encourage your child to tell you, a teacher, an older sibling or a trusted adult if she’s worried about anything that’s happening online.
Talk with your child about online friends and messaging friend lists. Explain that if your child adds someone he doesn’t really know as a ‘buddy’ or ‘friend’, it gives that person access to information about him that could be used for bullying.
Tell your child not to give out passwords to friends. Some teenagers do this as a sign of trust, but a password gives other people the power to pose as your child online.
Ask your child to ‘think before posting’. Young people who post personal comments, photos or videos can attract unwanted attention, negative comments or ridicule. This information can also stay available online for a long time.
How to spot cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be tough to spot.
This is because many young people who are being bullied don’t want to tell teachers or parents, perhaps because they feel embarrassed. They might be scared that it will get worse if an adult tries to do something about it. They might also be worried about losing their computer or mobile phone privileges.
As a parent, you might find it hard to keep up with the different technologies your child uses and the different ways that cyberbullying can happen.
Here are some warning signs of cyberbullying to look out for.
School and social life
- withdraws from friends and activities, and avoids school or group gatherings
- refuses to go to school
- gets lower marks than usual.
- is upset during or after using the internet
- spends much longer than usual online, or refuses to use the computer at all
- exits computer activity if you go past.
Emotions and behaviour
- is more moody than usual, or shows obvious changes in behaviour, sleep or appetite
- gets unusually angry at home
- feels sick or complains of frequent headaches or stomach aches.
If you’re worried your child might be the one doing the bullying, you could start by talking with your child about being a responsible digital citizen
and treating other people with respect online.
Helping teenagers handle cyberbullying
If teenagers are being bullied online, it’s great for them to feel they have some power to resolve the problem themselves. These six steps are a good way for your child to G.E.T. R.I.D. of a cyberbully.
You might need to help your child work through these steps and to follow through with reporting a cyberbullying incident. Your support might make the difference, because some teenagers feel too emotionally exhausted to report incidents themselves.
1. G – go block or delete the person engaging in cyberbullying
Blocking someone from friend lists helps stop the person engaging in cyberbullying from posting or uploading offensive content about your child.
If it’s a text message or call, you can call the service provider and have the calls/texts monitored. If necessary, the service provider can even contact the sender, because mobile phone holders breach their contract if they use their phone to bully. If necessary, you can change the phone number.
2. E – ensure you keep evidence of bullying
Save and print out any bullying messages. Use the print screen key, at the top right of most keyboards. You can also take a screenshot of a mobile phone screen.
3. T – tell someone
Sharing feelings with a parent, older sibling, relative, teacher or close friend will help keep your child from feeling isolated.
4. R – report abuse
Reporting bullying to web administrators is usually as easy as clicking on a ‘report abuse’ link on a website. The website will remove the offensive content. There could also be consequences for the person engaging in bullying.
If your child has been threatened, she should also report it to the local police.
5. I – ignore the bullying behaviour
This means not responding aggressively to taunts. It’s OK for your child to tell the person engaging in bullying to stop, but your child shouldn’t try to take revenge.
6. D – delete the bullying message
After you’ve saved evidence of the bullying, delete the message or post. Don’t forward it, repost it, retweet it or send it to other people in any way.
Helping teenagers who have been cyberbullied
Your child won’t always be able to solve cyberbullying problems independently. It’s important to step in if you’re concerned about your child, because you’ll be able to help practically and emotionally.
Your loving support is vital. You can also:
- talk to your child – listen to his side of the story, and reassure him that the bullying isn’t his fault
- let your child know that you’ll help and that things will get better
- stay calm and resist the temptation to ban the internet in your home. Banning online activities will only make your child less likely to share his online problems
- speak with the school if the problem involves a classmate. It’s best to make sure your child knows about your interaction with the school, and that he has a say in the process
- get professional help if your child seems distressed or withdrawn. Your child can also contact Kids Helpline by phoning 1800 551 800.
Video Cyberbullying: talking with teenagers
Izzy is a teenager who has been bullied on a social media site. She doesn’t want to go to school, and her parents are worried.
Talking to teenagers about cyberbullying can be tricky. But sharing the load with your teenage child can help. This video demonstration with actors shows how to start an understanding and supportive conversation about cyberbullying.
How cyberbullying is different from other bullying
Cyberbullying is different from other kinds of bullying, for both the person engaging in bullying and the victim.
People using bullying behaviour often act more boldly online than if they were facing their victim in person. Sending taunts remotely and anonymously makes the person doing the bullying feel safer. The victim’s physical or emotional response, which might change or soften the bullying behaviour, can’t be seen.
For the person being bullied, cyberbullying is tough to deal with. Because teenagers use mobiles and the internet so often, bullying can happen 24 hours a day, not just when they’re at school. The victim might not know who’s doing the bullying or when the bully will strike next. This can make teenagers feel persecuted and unsafe, even at home.
Bullying messages posted online are very hard to get rid of. These messages can be forwarded instantly and be seen by many people, instead of only the few people present if it was face-to-face bullying.
In this short video, parents and teenagers discuss their experiences of bullying and its impacts. Parents share their strategies for helping to resolve bullying. Teenagers discuss types of bullying, including cyberbullying, and what causes bullying behaviour.
12% of children and young people who use mobile phones have reported receiving a threatening or abusive text, and 7% reported sending one.