When harassment and intimidation take place online, it’s called cyberbullying. This kind of bullying can be especially hard to deal with, since it can be difficult to control and visible to a large number of people. Chances are your child spends a lot of time online, so it’s important to make sure you know what to do if online behaviour gets nasty. Learn what cyberbullying is, how it impacts young people, and get some tips on how you and your child can deal with it.
This can help if you:
- want to know what cyberbullying is
- think your child could be experiencing or involved in cyberbullying in some way
- want to find out how you can help
What is cyberbullying?
The causes of cyberbullying are ambiguous; what we do know is that cyberbullying is the deliberate, persistent and malicious use of words or pictures in an online environment intended to cause harm to someone’s wellbeing. Research undertaken by Kids Helpline found that the most common age for cyberbullying is the transition period between primary and high school when young people are around 11 or 12, but it happens throughout the teenage years so it’s important to be aware.
What does cyberbullying look like?
Cyberbullying comes in many forms but the most common are:
- receiving intentionally hurtful text messages, emails or direct messages on social media sites
- people spreading rumours or lies about someone online
- people sending images or videos intended to humiliate or embarrass someone
- people sending threats to someone
- people setting up and using fake online profiles to embarrass or intimidate someone.
How is it different to other forms of bullying?
Bullying is a kind of behaviour that is designed to cause intentional harm. Cyberbullying can be even more distressing because of its very public and uncontrollable nature. For example:
- there’s no limit to who can view or take part in cyberbullying
- it can be very difficult to remove content shared online
- bullies can be anonymous
- content can be accessed through search engines
It’s hard for people to escape the bullying, especially if they use technology in their everyday lives. It’s suggested that young people can be more likely to bully someone online than they would in real-life, as they feel less accountable for their actions due to the nature of the online world.
Zoe's bullying story
When Zoe and her boyfriend broke up things went pretty badly and Zoe found herself being cyberbullied by his friends. Hear about how her and her mum Anna worked through the impact of it together. Read the video transcript.
Keep your teenager safe from cyberbullying
Only around 1 in 10 young people inform a parent or trusted adult of cyberbullying. Some reasons for this low number include embarrassment, fear of not being believed, fear of having the issue trivialised, or losing access to technology. Taking proactive steps to educate your child about what they can do about cyberbullying can be a good way to ensure they approach you for support when they need it. A good place to get information is the Keep it Tame website. It gives a great overview about cyberbullying.
What are the effects of cyberbullying?
The effects of cyberbullying on teenagers can range from:
- lower school attendance and performance
- increased stress and anxiety
- feelings of isolation and fear
- poor concentration
- decreased self-esteem and confidence
- in extreme cases the cyberbullying can lead to suicide.
The effects of cyberbullying are similar to the effects of bullying, but the main difference is that it's much harder to avoid, because it can follow your teen home from school and make them feel like they'll never be able to escape it. Make sure your child knows it's not their fault, they're not alone, and that there are ways to deal with cyberbullying.
How to be proactive about cyberbullying
To be proactive about cyberbullying you can:
- ensure that your child only friends and chats with people on social media that they know in real life
- ensure that privacy settings are set on all your child’s social media accounts
- make sure your child knows not to share or give out passwords
- ensure that your child knows how to block, delete or report anyone who is upsetting them online.
How to prevent your teen from being cyberbullied
- Educate yourself on cyberbullying and figure out the best way to address it– this will help you to be prepared if it ever occurs.
- Chat to your teenager about sharing photos online, especially risqué ones. Explain that once they’re online they can lose control of who sees them pretty quickly and that can lead to name-calling and shaming unfortunately.
- Remind them to ignore messages from people they don’t know. The internet can be a great place to make new friends but it is still super important to be extra cautious due to fake accounts and trolls
- To ensure they are on private, you can google their name and if they have social media it will pop up on your search – if their accounts are on private you won’t be able to see any posts.
- Make sure they know that cyberbullying is wrong and they shouldn’t do it. If you’re teenager engages in this sort of behaviour online it may open doors for people to think they have an excuse to cyberbully your child.
- Get them engaged in offline activities. That way if something does happen online they have things to do that they enjoy.
- Remember, the less time they spend on their devices, the less likely it is that they will be cyberbullied.
What to do if you know your child is being cyberbullied
There is no perfect strategy on how to solve cyberbullying, although, if you know your child is being cyberbullied, the first thing to do is to be supportive and empathetic. Make sure that they know it’s not their fault. Cyberbullying is serious and upsetting, so try not to minimise or trivialise the situation in order to make your child ‘feel better’. Avoid the temptation to stop your child going online at all; this will more likely result in them not telling you if it occurs again.
Ways to offer emotional support to your child include:
- speak to your child and really listen to what they have to say. Thank them for opening up to you, and let them know that you want to put an end to the bullying.
- never blame your child for experiencing cyberbullying. The way young people interact online may seem excessive to adults, but bullying is never the fault of the person being bullied.
- acknowledge their feelings and don’t try to dismiss their experiences, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.
- reassure them that there are people who can offer support, whether this is you, their teachers or other professionals and services.
- if your child is distressed about the bullying, encourage them to speak to a mental health professional, or direct them to services that can help. This may be a school counsellor, or a service like Kids Helpline.
If you require more information on how to address cyberbullying situations and for general cyberbullying safety tips, read the fact sheet Escalating Cyberbullying.
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
Being bullied can leave a young person feeling like there’s no one out there who can offer support. If your child is being bullied online, one of the most important things is to reassure them that there are people who can help. Cyberbullying can be a crime. Different states have different laws on cyberbullying. For more information, be sure to check out Lawstuff.org.au