Statistics show that 1 in 5 young people under the age of 18 reported experiencing online bullying. Most children that experience bullying online are afraid or hesitant to tell anybody about their experience as a result of the fear that has been created such as deflated sense of self-worth or embarrassment, lack of confidence or do not feel that those around them can relate to how they are feeling.
What should I be looking out for?
The signs of online bullying are often similar to that of offline bullying. Like offline bullying, cyber bullying is defined as ongoing and deliberate hurtful or aggressive behaviour that occurs during time spent online. There is no exactness as to how a child may react if they are being cyber bullied. However, for a child experiencing cyber bullying there are some signs you may start to observe, particularly when they are using their connected technology. You may see a child demonstrate any one of the following behaviours:
- Frequent anger and outburst, mood swings, anxiety and tears during or just after technology use
- Spending less time (or more time) on their devices that they usually do
- Appearing edgy when devices need to be switched off or put away
- An unwillingness to discuss their online communication
- Reduced interactions with peers and friends through offline contexts
- Asking you to block comments or phone numbers
- Restricting your view of their screen when they are using communication apps or social networking
I think my child may be experiencing bullying online, what can I do?
If you are concerned that your child may be experiencing online bullying here are some suggested intervention strategies:
1. Start by talking.
While getting all the details may seem like a good idea, your child may not feel entirely comfortable disclosing everything to you. In fact, your questions may feel like an interrogation. Instead, start by talking about your own online experiences, weaving in the good and the bad. It may seem strange or ‘out of the blue’ to hear you talking about technology in this way, so the earlier these conversations begin in your household, the more normalised conversations about this topic will become. It’s also a good idea to regularly remind your children that ‘there is nothing you could ever do that I wouldn’t forgive’, ‘We all make mistakes and I am here to help you make things right’, ‘No matter what happens, I am always here to help’.
2. Discuss help seeking strategies.
Whilst we would all hope that our children come to us as the first point of call, for many children the thought of telling a parent is ‘out of the question’ for fear of technology being banned or getting into trouble. Help your child identify three trusted people (other than you) in their life that they could turn to for help when things are going wrong or they aren’t sure what to do. This may be a grandparent, sibling, cousin, Aunt or Uncle or a teacher at school. Also ensure your children know how to access the kids helpline.
3. Document and report misconduct.
Should you find material online that you believe is inappropriate conduct an involves your child, take a screenshot of the activity as evidence. There are laws about cyber bullying that you and your children should be aware of. When reporting serious cases of bullying, the police will require access to social media accounts as well as evidence. If you aren’t sure if you should report cyber bullying, check out this resource from the eSafety Commissioner.
Social Networking applications are taking greater responsibility for cyber bullying and inappropriate content appearing on their platforms. Most Social Networking applications have a reporting system in place aimed at flagging inappropriate content and abusive behaviour. Talk about these features and ensure your children know that when using these features they remain anonymous.
4. Limit online access.
If you start to see a behavioural shifts around the time your child is using connected technology such as; anger, anxiety or signs of depression, you may want to limit their access. Set clear rules and expectations that promote appropriate screen time use, including help seeking strategies when problems or uncomfortable situations arise. Many applications have great parental controls that can be helpful in monitoring your child’s digital use including the use of screen time analytics through Apple Family Sharing or Google Family Link.
5. Foster positive online protocols.
One of the best ways to prevent cyber bullying is to make sure that your children clearly understand what cyber bullying is and how to identify it. They must know that bullying is not tolerated in either offline or online spaces. Make sure they understand that they too must respect others online, reducing the likelihood of them becoming a target when they are conducting kind, friendly and respectful dialogue themselves. Another important step is to ensure your children make use of Privacy Settings within their apps or accounts. There are often settings that allow you to block specific users or turning on features such as ‘hide offensive comments‘.
6. Promote kindness and positive in these places
Online communities, whether that be within games or social networks are regulated by those who participate [your children]. They are the creators of their online communities and set the tone for the environments in which they engage. Through gaming and social media we are regularly hearing of toxic, inappropriate and harmful dialogue. It’s important that young people are calling out, blocking and reporting behaviour that they don’t feel aligns with their own values or the terms and conditions set out by the digital platform. Help your child to promote and encourage kind behaviour towards their friends and make healthy choices when it comes to who they choose to engage with in online spaces.
7. Get your child actively engaged offline.
Help your child discover and establish positive friendships through offline settings such as engaging with sport, hobbies or extra curricular activities. Through a child’s formative years, these face to face relationship offer positive offline experiences for children and allow for the development of authentic and life long friendships to flourish. Having offline friends can create an important support network and providing your children with someone to turn to when things go wrong for them online.
Preventing cyber bullying may feel like an impossible feat, but by taking small actions, advocating and building awareness are our frontline defence against this social phenomenon. Understanding and talking about online bullying must become a normalised conversation in every household.
If bullying has occurred, parents must be careful not to react with anger or take action without consulting their child. Young people often hide bullying from parents because they fear a parent will make things worse.
At school or at home we can promote positive values and teach our children the actions they can take to become UPSTANDERS in both online and offline settings. An Online Upstander is someone who is willing to take action to support a person being targeted by cyber bullying through standing up for them, telling a teacher or other adult, reporting inappropriate conduct or simply reaching out to a victim to ask if they are okay. Let’s continue to create a movement of Online Upstanders and create the positive online communities that we want!