Cyberbullying: what you need to know
Cyberbullying is when a person uses digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person.
Examples of cyberbullying include deliberately and repeatedly:
- posting or sending messages that threaten people or put people down
- leaving people out of online games or social forums
- spreading nasty rumours online about people
- setting up unkind or unpleasant fake social media accounts using real photos and contact details
- trolling or stalking people online
- sharing or forwarding people’s personal information
- posting insulting or embarrassing photos or videos of people
- 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 like depression or anxiety, this can make him more vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Effects of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying often leaves teenagers with lowered self-esteem, less interest in school and low academic achievement.
Children and teenagers might feel confused by changes in their friendship groups. They might also feel alone, lonely and isolated. Cyberbullying can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Some victims of cyberbullying feel they have no safe place, or that no one can help.
Cyberbullying can become offline bullying – for example, bullying at school. And face-to-face bullying can become cyberbullying. Children and teenagers can experience cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying at the same time.
Cyberbullying: how to talk about it with your child
Talking is one of the best ways to help your child avoid cyberbullying. It’s best to start talking about cyberbullying when your child first starts to use social media, or when he gets a mobile phone.
Here are some things you could talk about:
- What cyberbullying looks like – for example, ‘Cyberbullying is sending mean text messages, spreading rumours on social media, ganging up on or deliberately excluding someone in an online game, or sharing an embarrassing photo with other people’.
- How it might feel to be cyberbullied – for example, ‘Being cyberbullied can make you feel very upset and lonely. It can make you not want to join in activities where the person doing the bullying might be’.
- The consequences of cyberbullying – for example, ‘People who get cyberbullied can stop doing well at school and feel depressed, anxious or even suicidal’.
Technology rules to help your child avoid cyberbullying
Agreeing on clear rules about when your child can use her mobile phone, computer or tablet can help her avoid cyberbullying.
For example, cyberbullying often happens at night through text messages and shared images. It can help to have a family rule that everyone switches off devices at night and leaves them in a family area.
Practical tips to help your child stay safe online
Here are simple things your child can do to stay safe online and avoid cyberbullying:
- Accept only people he knows as online friends and followers. If your child adds someone he doesn’t really know as a ‘buddy’, ‘friend’ or ‘follower’, it gives that person access to information about your child that could be used for bullying.
- Don’t give out passwords. Some teenagers give their passwords to friends as a sign of trust, but a password gives other people the power to pose as your child online.
- Think before you post. If your child posts personal comments, photos or videos she might get unwanted attention or negative comments. People can screenshot or download the comments and photos and share and post them anywhere. They can also be available online for a long time.
- Tell you, a teacher or another trusted adult if he’s worried about anything that’s happening online, including if he sees someone else being cyberbullied.
How cyberbullying is different from other bullying
Cyberbullying is different from other kinds of bullying, both for the person doing the bullying and the person being bullied.
People who bully others often act more boldly online than if they were face-to-face with other people. Sending taunts remotely and anonymously makes people doing the bullying feel safer and more powerful. If they could see the physical or emotional responses to their bullying behaviour, they might be less likely to behave this way.
For people being bullied, cyberbullying is tough to deal with. Because teenagers use mobiles and the internet all the time, bullying can happen 24 hours a day, not just when they’re at school. People who are being cyberbullied might not know who’s doing the bullying or when they will strike next. This can make teenagers feel persecuted and unsafe, even when they’re 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 in face-to-face bullying situations.