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Is your teenager bullying on social media?

If you’re worried that your teen might be bullying someone on social media, you’re not alone. Research shows 10-20% of teens will engage in social media bullying at some point.

Teens live online, and sometimes they’ll post something because they think it’s 'funny' and not even realise they’re hurting someone, or what they’re doing is bullying.

Social media bullying can involve making hurtful comments or sending mean messages, posting photos of someone without their permission or creating fake social profiles. It can be done by one young person or a whole group of young people. If you find out your child is engaging in this behaviour, here are some ways to deal with the issue.

Three step action plan

1. Be clear about what you want your teen to do

Before talking to your teen, come up with a plan for the chat. You may think of other helpful things you'd like to get out of the conversation, and here are four outcomes to get you off to a good start:

  • understand the impacts of their bullying
  • see how social media can affect people
  • change their behaviour
  • help the person they've bullied to feel better.

2. Talk to your teen calmly

Discovering that your teen is posting hurtful or offensive material about others on social media can be very upsetting. You may feel angry, guilty or embarrassed, but try to remain calm when you talk to them. It’s important you get the whole story; tell them what you know and ask them to tell you what has happened from their point of view. You’ll get more out of the conversation if you:

  • keep your emotions in check and avoid judgement or blame.
  • focus on your teen's behaviour, it's their actions not them as a person that you're talking about. For example, you could talk about how a negative comment may have come across rather than telling them they’re a bad person for doing something. The important thing is helping your teen get outside themselves to see the bigger picture.
  • stick to what they need to do to make amends.

3. Consider the best way to resolve the situation

What you decide will depend on the age of your teen, the extent of bullying and the impact on the other person. A young person’s social media experiences can affect many areas of their life. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Separate out the behaviour from the person. Reassure your teenager that just because they have behaved in this way, it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. This can make it easier to focus on what they learnt from this experience, and work with them to change.
  • Ask your teen to stand in the other person's shoes and imagine how they would feel if the same thing had happened to them. This can open their eyes to how hurt that person might be feeling, and help your teen understand why they need to change their behaviour.
  • Find out what they are trying to achieve with their behaviour and explore how else they may get it. For example, if they are expressing anger because of something other people have done, brainstorm how they can do it in a more constructive and helpful way.
  • Talk to them about the reality of social media. Online life can feel like it isn’t connected to real life sometimes. Ask them about how they see this.
  • It won’t be possible in all circumstances, but getting your teen to admit their mistake, take down the offensive material and apologise to the person or people they have hurt can go a long way to healing the pain they have caused. Decide on this together, and agree on the appropriate actions to take.
  • Be aware that you may need to involve the school, and decide to get professional support to help your teen change their behaviour.

Finding out your teenager has been taking part in social media bullying can be scary, but there are lots of things that you can do to support them and encourage them to stop.

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