What is Cyberbullying and how to prevent it
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is any form of bullying carried out through the use of electronic media devices such as computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets or gaming consoles.
Some examples include mean text messages or emails, rumours posted on social media, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
Things that make cyberbullying different from the traditional form of bullying that we might be more familiar with are:
- It can happen any time day or night – online activity means you can be in contact at any time
- Hidden identity or anonymity – can make cyberbullying very scary as the victim might not even know the bully or ‘troll’
- The potential for a wider audience – e.g. a photo being passed around online
- Degree of separation – as those who cyberbully often don’t see the first-hand reaction of their victim, it can be harder for them to see the consequences of their actions
- Evidence – e.g. taking a screenshot, this can be a good thing as victims can keep evidence to show school staff, parents or police but also means that even once something is taken down, screenshots can remain
Instances of cyberbullying are more common than we might think, with a quarter of headteachers in England saying that they face problems related to cyberbullying every week, with over one in 10 saying these are caused by hurtful material posted on social media (BBC News, 2019).
How can I help to prevent my child from being cyberbullied?
Although there is no way to stop cyberbullying from happening completely, there are ways we can help and educate our children:
- Teach your child how to communicate online – remember that online comments and writing can be articulated in different ways (the receiver can’t see facial expressions or voice tones and therefore jokes can be taken seriously)
- Make them aware that what they send could be seen by a wider audience – it is difficult to completely erase our ‘digital footprint’ in this day and age and therefore your child might not be aware that what they are sending could be potentially made available to more people than the receiver.
- Look for signs in your children that they are being bullied – these include:
- Changes in behaviour
- Secrecy and excessive solitary behaviour
- Hiding, deceitfulness (e.g. switching things off as you walk in)
- Grades slipping
- Negative friendship changes
- Always report and block any abusers – find out how to do this for some of the most common social media platforms at Childline.org.
- Build their confidence offline – this will help them to deal with cyberbullying and avoid feeling the need to cyberbully themselves.
- Maintain open communication with their school and other parents – it is often helpful to share concerns with fellow parents, particularly if your children are in the same friendship group. Discussing your concerns with your child’s school can also help to prevent a situation from escalating.
If you think your child is a cyberbully
While it is important to try and protect your children from cyberbullies, it is also important to consider the fact that it could be your child doing the bullying. If you suspect your child may be bullying others, remain calm (despite the urge to go mad) and talk to them.
You may like to consider the following pointers:
- Try and find the reason behind the issue – talk to them and ask them why they are being nasty to others. They may be unhappy themselves or retaliating to comments they have received.
- Encourage them to think about how their actions have made the receiver feel – Developing empathy can have instant effects on them when they realise the consequences of their actions on others.
- Contact their school – ask the Headteacher to target cyberbullying, and have a look through the school’s guidance on the subject. Especially if both children attend the school they will want to get involved in rectifying the situation.
Unlike face-to-face bullying, it can be tricky to spot cyberbullying in action because everything is happening behind a screen.
While this may seem scary as it feels like unfamiliar territory, many of the signs and solutions are similar to face-to-face bullying. Keeping the lines of communication open with your child, particularly as they reach their teens, is key to handling many bullying issues that arise.