How to deal with online bullying as a parent

teen boy on computer

Bullying online happens most frequently via social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

What is online bullying?

Online bullying can include:

  • posting photos of someone without their permission.

  • sending mean messages via a messaging app or email.

  • leaving someone out of group chats or using group chats to harass someone.

  • posting from someone else’s social media profile without consent or creating fake pages.

  • leaving mean comments on someone’s social media accounts.

Online bullying can come from within a teenager’s social group or school. It can start with one person, or a group of people harassing one target together. It can also be initiated by complete strangers, often called “trolling”. Whether it is an isolated online incident or something that is happening over months across several social platforms, bullying can be very distressing for any young person. Learn more about what cyberbullying is.

If a parent isn’t active on social media or online, it can make bullying in these spaces seem more daunting to speak about. However, there are some really practical ways that can help you to protect your teenager, make them feel better and help you both deal with online bullying.

What are some signs that my teenager is facing online bullying?

Experiencing bullying online can be particularly upsetting because it can take place anytime. The stress of this can take a real toll on your child’s wellbeing. Everyone will deal with their situation differently, but here are a few things to look out for that may be a sign your child is experiencing bullying online:

  • Becoming more withdrawn; opting out of seeing friends and family.

  • Appearing nervous or upset after reading texts or using the computer.

  • Difficulty sleeping, headaches or stomach aches.

  • Wanting to avoid school or other activities they used to enjoy.

What can my teenager do to deal with online bullying?

If you become aware that your child has been affected by hurtful comments, images or conversations from a bully online, there are simple things you can suggest to your teenager:

  • Don’t respond to online bullying.

  • Keep evidence of bullying behaviour, via print outs or screenshots.

  • Delete the offensive posts or messages once they’ve been documented.

  • Untag or flag any photos for removal that are distressing.

  • Unfriend or block the person that is posting hurtful comments.

  • Change privacy settings on their social media accounts and change any passwords that have been shared with others.

Get them to check out this article about cyberbullying on ReachOut Youth.

What can parents do to prevent cyberbullying?

The first thing to do if you are concerned that your teen is experiencing online bullying is to open up a conversation, listen and be supportive. Cyberbullying is something to be taken seriously.

  • Talk to your child about what has been happening and try to get a clear picture about what has been happening and for how long it’s been going on.

  • Teach them how important it is to stay calm when dealing with bullying online. Don’t respond to the online bullying with aggression. Encourage them to call out the bullying behaviour in a calm manner. For example, ‘Please stop sending these messages – this is bullying’.

  • Go through the initial steps above to try to put a stop to the abuse.

  • If the cyberbullying continues or intensifies, it’s time to enlist some external help.

If the online bully goes to their school

If your child knows who is bullying them from school, it’s important to involve their school in the issue. Most schools have an online bullying policy, often found on the school’s website, that you can read to get a sense of how they will respond to the issue.

Report online bullying to the school by:

  • involve your child in any decision or action

  • have as much information as you can about the bullying - how long it’s been happening and what’s been happening

  • make an appointment to see your child’s teacher or an administrator at the school

  • make a plan with the school on how to stop the online bullying

  • keep in regular contact with the school after the initial meeting to monitor the situation

  • if you’re unhappy with the school’s response, try to meet again with the school, and failing that, contact the local education authority.

Watch Zoe's story below to hear how she got help when she was being cyberbullied by someone she knew.

Zoe's story of online bullying

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.

Report online bullying via social media and mobile phone providers

Social media and mobile phone providers can be a resource to call on in the case of online bullying. Mobile phone providers can assist with tracking in the case of abusive texts or calls and you are also able to report cyberbullying content to social media platforms in the event of social media bullying laws and policies being breached.

Report online bullying via the eSafety Commissioner

The eSafety Commissioner can also help with online bullying by getting offensive material removed from sites on your behalf. This is done by completing a complaint form on their website.

A complaint can be made to the eSafety Commissioner by any young person aged less than 18 years, and any adult who is a parent or guardian to a young person who is being bullied online. Complaints can be made via an online form on the eSafety Commissioner website.

Before you report online bullying:

  • contact the social media provider and report the abuse, keep proof that you have done this and keep a note of the date that the report was filed.

  • gather as much evidence as you can such as screenshots, videos links and keep the message.

Making a complaint to the eSafety Commissioner is the best way to go if you have reported abuse to your social media provider and the offensive material hasn’t been removed within 48 hours.

Report online bullying to the Police

The police should be contacted in the case where the online bullying takes the form of intimidation and direct threats. They can help to track down the perpetrator in the case that the bullying online is anonymous.

Receive peer and professional support

Dealing with online and social media bullying is an incredibly difficult thing to cope with for both children and parents. Alongside all of the strategies above, make time to reach out for support from family and friends, both for you and your child.

Don't be afraid to access professional support like a counsellor or youth worker, particularly if the cyberbullying is ongoing or is having an impact on your child's wellbeing. You can also encourage your teen to participate in safe online peer-support through the ReachOut Forums for youth. It is a reputable, evidence based and professionally moderated online information and support service.

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