The internet offers a wealth of learning and leisure opportunities for children but, understandably, many parents and carers worry that their children may experience cyberbullying – or perhaps cyberbully others – when their personal and virtual worlds collide.
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to bully a person or group. Bullying involves deliberately and repeatedly attempting to hurt, scare or exclude someone. The main purpose is to have power over someone else. Children can cyberbully each other in a number of ways; for example, sending abusive text messages and emails, posting hurtful images, spreading nasty online gossip and excluding others online.
Cyberbullying is a mental health concern because it causes distress and can lead to loneliness, anxiety and depression. It can also affect children’s concentration and lower their achievement at school. Cyberbullying is particularly nasty because it is often done in secret, shared with a lot of people and difficult to remove.
Cyberbullying has consequences for families, too. It can be stressful for families to discover that their child is being cyberbullied or cyberbullying other children. So what should you do if you’re concerned about cyberbullying? First, explain to your child that cyberbullying is not okay and that they should report it if it occurs. Schools have anti-bullying policies in place and should be able to support your child, whether the bullying is occurring on school grounds or not.
Supervising your child’s use of electronic devices and teaching your child about ways to keep safe online can help to reduce the risk of cyberbullying.
If your child is being cyberbullied:
- listen and provide support to your child
- try to understand what has been happening online, including how often and how long
- encourage social skills, like being assertive, telling the bully to stop and seeking help
- support your child to think through different ways they could deal with the problem
- talk with your child’s teacher and ask for help
- keep talking with the school until your child feels safe.
If your child is doing the cyberbullying:
- make sure your child knows the cyberbullying behaviour is inappropriate and why
- try to understand the reasons why your child has behaved in this way and look for ways to address problems
- encourage your child to think about how their behaviour makes other children feel
- help your child think of alternative paths of action.
You may wish to read more about bullying.