As defined by Oxford Languages, cyberbullying is ‘the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.’
As Kids Helpline adds, cyberbullying takes many forms, including ‘lying, spreading rumours, playing horrible jokes, leaving someone out on purpose, embarrassing someone’, as well as insulting, harassing, humiliating, mistreating or degrading another person directly or indirectly via social media, online messaging or another means on the internet.
Bullying is never acceptable - online or in person, period.
Cyberbullying doesn't require face-to-face interactions and is regularly done without any witnesses at all (one extreme difference to traditional, pre-digital bullying), and it can also be done secretly without the victim being aware of the bully’s identity. The consequences of cyberbullying can be detrimental, for both the bullied and those doing the bullying.
Quite often children who are bullying others don’t understand or think of the harmful intensity of their actions, and therefore continue doing it without thought of repercussion or pending problems. It’s important that parents identify and educate a child doing the bullying about their actions and the likely consequences it’s having on others. Many young people will immediately stop or change their behaviours once exposed to the risks and realities, but communication, empathy-building and education is the key.
It’s often difficult for a parent to believe that their child is bullying another child, but sometimes it happens. You might feel shocked, worried or defensive (all normal reactions), but you also have a responsibility to help stop the activity.
Bullying is too important of an issue to ignore. Left unchecked, bullying and the related behaviours can hurt your child socially, emotionally, psychologically, and academically. According to many professionals, young people who bully others are more likely to:
• Do poorly in school and social environments
• Turn to violence as a way to deal with problems
• Damage property or steal
• Abuse drugs or alcohol
• Get in trouble with the law
Here’s how your child may be exposed to bullying online (publicly or privately):
• Harmful messages and/or comments (text, audio or video)
• Harmful images, GIFs, Memes or emojis
• Fraping / Impersonation
• Catphishing / Catfishing
• Fake profiles
What are the potential impacts of being bullied?
• Low confidence and self-esteem.
• Resentment and anger.
• Loss of interest in studies or hobbies.
• Depression, anxiety, mood disorder, or an eating disorder.
• Poor sleep.
• Self-harm or commit suicide.
Bullying can have some detrimental effects on the mind and health of any young person, so it’s important a child seeks help and talks about the issue with someone.
The statistics are confronting:
• One in five (20.9%) tweens (9 to 12 years old) has been cyberbullied, cyberbullied others, or seen cyberbullying. (Patchin & Hinduja, 2020)
• 46% of bullied students report notifying an adult at school about the incident (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019 )
• A higher percentage of male than female students report being physically bullied (6% vs. 4%), whereas a higher percentage of female than of male students reported being the subjects of rumors (18% vs. 9%) and being excluded from activities on purpose (7% vs. 4%). (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019 )
• The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2019 )
Also, young people who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behavior are at greater risk for both mental health and behavior problems than students who only bully or are only bullied. (Centers for Disease Control, 2019)
How do you know if your child is bullying others?
The Australian Institute of Family Studies highlights the following indicators that your child may be doing online and/or offline:
• Using verbal or physical aggression to deal with conflict
• Talking about "getting even" with others
• Blaming others for their behaviour or being unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions
• Coming home with items or money that don't belong to them
• Hanging around with other children who appear aggressive
• Having a hard time expressing feelings and understanding others' feelings
• Unable to play cooperative games (is an arrogant winner and a sore loser)
• Reacting to questioning with anger or avoidance
• Playing inappropriately with much younger children
• Putting down other children in conversations
• Fighting often with brothers, sisters and others
Here’s 11 ways parents can protect children from cyberbullying:
• Be present and attentive
Parents need to learn how to be observant towards their child. Be present, set a good example and help them socialize themselves healthily. Encourage kids to form and grow friendships, develop social skills, respect others and be good people.
Offer your child comfort and support if they are being cyberbullied. Don't get angry or frustrated with them for not being able to fix or solve the situation. Instead, listen, learn, empathise and understand the problem and their feelings.
Listen to your child’s questions, complaints or opinions of online use and social behaviour. Learn with your child and help your family build a better understanding of growing up in today’s digital world.
• Talk about what (and what not) to do online
Communicate and talk with your kids about bullying, about healthy use of technology and digital devices, and about the right/wrong behaviours online. Ask your child about their online friends and online activities. Educate them about the difference between real friends and online friends, and the right and wrong ways of communicating and connecting with others.
Share your own experiences or problems faced online. If you’ve been bullied, share this with your child so they understand they’re not different or the only one going through this type of situation. You ultimately want to learn how to tackle and resolve the issue, together.
• Let your child know it's not their fault
Many young people blame themselves for being bullied. They’ll blame their appearance, their weight, their interests, etc. Let your child know it’s not their fault. The burden of the situation should be carried by the cyberbullies and not by the victims. Make sure your child knows you’re present, understanding of the matter and available to help them deal with the situation.
• Talk with the Bully
If and when possible, establish communication with the bully and talk to them constructively about the matter. Tell them that you’re aware of their actions and are helping to resolve things. You may want to make them aware that if the situation doesn’t change and stop, you will take legal steps against them. If the bully is underage, you may need to escalate the matter to their parents or carers.
• Set healthy technology limits
Technology is 24/7, but that doesn’t mean anyone should be using social media, messaging or living online for the entire day. It’s important for families to establish and uphold healthy behaviours and boundaries for device and internet use. Help educate and show your child that a safe distance and timeout from the internet is crucial for good mental health.
• Set up privacy settings on social media
Talk with your child about enabling and enhancing privacy settings, such as private profiles, blocking messages, etc. It’s important to find regular time with your child to review their accounts together, disabling any controversial information such as shared home addresses and mobile numbers.
• Let school know about the bullying
There’s a chance that the cyberbullying might be carried over to the real world at school, directly or indirectly. With your child’s agreement, inform the school about the matter and seek their support where possible. You may find that the bullying started there. Many schools have strict rules, regulations and processes for bullying when facing such kinds of problems.
• Keep records of the incidents
It's good practice to keep a record of any cyberbullying activity (including messages, comments, pictures, videos, etc) because it can be used as evidence when presenting your case in front of the bully's parents, school, police or other legal authorities.
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• Beware of triggers and measure the response
Talk with your child about the situation and ask them to avoid retaliating or replying without the right intent. It’s important they don’t give additional attention or inspiration to the cyberbully.
Explain to your child why reacting angrily or replying with nasty comments isn’t the right way to handle the situation or resolve the problem. There’s a high chance that’s what the bully wants and gets pleasure from. It’s typically better to show no response than it is to respond to triggers.
Instead, discuss blocking the bully’s account across all social media and messaging platforms. Disable the bully’s method of communication and discuss appropriate next steps. If the problem persists and takes place elsewhere, consider escalating the matter to the appropriate place.
• Practice good mental health
Give your child the help they need by providing them with proper resources, education and tools to discuss the issue and deal with it. If your child is emotionally overwhelmed by the bully's actions, you may consider professional counseling and therapy.
Nothing is more unsettling than learning that your child is a bully, or that your child is getting bullied. Disbelief, anger and fear are usually three quick emotions that follow.
If you do learn that your child is involved with bullying, try not to dwell on it. Instead, talk with your child, listen, understand the situation, provide empathy and support, and take action.