Can we prevent cyberbullying?
How do we stop our children from being cyberbullied without taking away access to the internet? Here are some suggestions for creating a safe space for your child online.
Screen time has become a large part of our children’s lives – at home, school and in their social worlds, and even more so during lockdown in 2020. But have you ever wondered what goes on behind those devices? While communicating online helps our kids to build and develop their social skills, it comes with the possibility of online bullying, which is more common than you may think.
A 2017 survey by the eSafety Commissioner collected information on negative online experiences. Of children aged 8–12, 24% reported unwanted contact and content, while 17% reported social exclusion, and 15% threats and abuse.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when someone deliberately uses digital technology to hurt, humiliate or embarrass another person. Online bullying, much like bullying in real life, can involve name calling, nasty comments, threats or intimidation. It can be done privately, publicly or in a group chat.
It doesn’t end at nasty comments, either. Cyberbullying extends to abusing or leaving out another player in an online game, sharing images or videos of a person without their consent (including your own children) and repeatedly visiting someone’s social media pages to check up on them.
Another form of cyberbullying is catfishing. This is when someone creates a new identity online using another person’s images and information, which can be used to trick other people or damage the reputation of the true owner of the identity.
“Cyberbullying is different to real-life bullying, as the person being bullied is a target 24/7 and there’s little respite,” says Martine Oglethorpe, online safety educator and author of The Modern Parent: Raising a Great Kid in a Digital World.
“The bully finds it easier to be more threatening online because they can remain anonymous. They can’t see the person and the evidence that they’re hurt.”
How do I know if my child is being bullied online?
Often kids are pretty good at covering up cyberbullying and choose not to share their experiences with an adult.
However, if you fear your child may be being bullied online, watch out for repeated behaviour where your child is:
- being secretive about their time on devices
- suddenly receiving more messages than normal
- displaying mood changes after being online
- emotionally withdrawing or refusing to go to school
- displaying a lack of motivation to do the things they once enjoyed.
“Kids experiencing cyberbullying may experience a range of negative emotions and feelings,” says Martine. “They may feel sad, anxious and stressed, as well as ashamed, hopeless and rejected.”
There are a few ways to ensure your child is equipped with the skills to recognise the challenges that arise from internet usage, so they’ll know when to come to you if things get out of control.
Dealing with bullying online
1. Communicate with your child
Encourage your child to be open and honest about what’s happening to them online. Reassure them you won’t take away their device, because although this might be the most obvious next move, it doesn’t teach your child about internet safety and may alienate them from their friends.
It can be a good opportunity to teach your child resilience. According to 2017 eSafety research, six in 10 young people were able to identify positive impacts from a negative online experience.
These included becoming more aware of their real friends, becoming more aware of risks online and learning to use the internet in a more balanced way.
“Remind your child that cyberbullying’s not okay, and everyone has the right to use the internet free from threats and harm,” says Martine.
“Be clear about the types of behaviours that are not to be tolerated, and that they are not to engage in themselves.”
If your child’s struggling to open up to you, suggest they talk with another trusted adult like a family friend or school counsellor.
Even if the bully is not at your child’s school, consider chatting to their teacher about the school’s policies on cyberbullying, as they may be able to give support.
2. Deleting and blocking the bully
The most effective way to stop a cyberbully is to block them. Don’t try to engage or approach them.
“Before blocking someone or deleting posts, take screenshots as evidence to show how long the bullying has been going on,” advises Martine. “This can be used later on if the bullying continues.”
If the bully continues to contact your child, or uses another account to do so, report them to the platform where the bullying took place on, like Instagram, Fortnite, TikTok.
If the platform doesn’t respond to your request within 48 hours, you can report it to the Office of the eSafety Commission.
3. Adjust your child’s privacy settings
“Show your child how to change their privacy settings to restrict public access to their posts and profile information,” advises Martine. “Regularly go through this with them to create the safest online environments.”
Advice on privacy settings is available in The eSafety Guide, which is an online resource for parents wanting to learn about the various social media apps their kids are using.
4. What should I do if I think my child is the bully?
Get them to talk to you. Explain to them how it would feel to be bullied and speak to them about accepting others and their differences.
Encourage them to take accountability for their actions and explain there will be consequences. Where possible, get them to apologise.
Check in with the school there are no behavioural concerns with your child or talk with a counsellor or psychologist to find out if there’s a reason they might be bullying others.
Resources available online
If your child is struggling with depression or anxiety because of cyberbullying and needs to speak to someone, they can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Words by Jo Hartley
First published July 2020
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