As a parent, the thought of your child being bullied is heartbreaking. Most of us can probably remember one or two schoolyard bullies, as well as the golden rules for avoiding them. But fast forward just one generation and our kids are now threatened by a new breed of bully: the cyberbully. Harder to catch and on a scale greater than ever before, cyberbullying is becoming almost de rigueur in teenage social media. But that doesn’t make it ok. Understanding cyberbullying is key for preventing it and helping your kids to cope with it if and when it does happen.
How can cyberbullying happen?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place through the use of technology. As you can imagine, there are many different ways this can happen, but the most common are:
- abusive texts and emails
- sharing of embarrassing or hurtful photos and videos
- posting of hurtful comments or messages
- intimidation or threats online
- excluding others online
- prank calls
- nasty online gossip and chat
What’s the difference between cyberbullying and normal bullying?
The difference is simply that it cyberbullying uses technology to carry out the bullying behaviour. Because of the unique properties of the cyber world, cyberbullying is often treated separately to more conventional bullying because:
- cyberbullying is often very public, where tens or even hundreds of people are witness to it and may even participate in it
- cyberbullying can escalate very quickly and can occur at any time of day or night
- the victim may not even be know they are being cyberbullied until it is too late
- it can be difficult to pinpoint the attackers due to the anonymous nature of technology
What can I do to prevent cyberbullying?
- Start talking: Have frequent chats about your child’s internet use so that they are comfortable discussing their online problems with you. Hopefully you’ll be able to spot any potential cyberbullying problems before they get out of hand.
- Set the boundaries: Limit your child’s use of social media to certain hours, and try to keep it to a minimum. Not only does this create some mental breathing space, but if your child is less engaged in the online world, then chances are they are less likely to be a victim of cyberbullying.
- Get out and about: Encourage your child to engage in a range of social activities beyond social media and the internet. If the online community is their whole world, then a cyberbullying attack could devastating. If, on the other hand, it is only a small part of their world, then it will be emotionally easier to deal with, as the majority of their social network will be unaffected.
- Take a zero tolerance approach: Never encourage gossip or condone any kind of bullying, even when your child is not the target. Encourage your child to take an equally firm stance on bullying when they see it happening to others.
- Keep it real: Talk to your child about who they interact with online. There is a tendency to have a wider online social circle than in real life, but this can be dangerous if not all online friends are true friends. Encourage your child to only interact with their real friends, as this will dramatically reduce the chances of them becoming a target.
What can I do to help my kids cope with cyberbullying?
- Review and revise: Where did the attack come from and who are your child’s real friends? Sit down together and go through their friends list and privacy settings to make sure that nasty cyberbullies aren’t able to post on your child’s wall or tag your child in any comments, images or videos.
- Be social media savvy: Show your child how to report cyberbullying on social network sites (see resources below). Make sure your child knows how to take a screenshot of their computer or handheld device so that they have proof of the cyberbullying in case it is needed.
- Offer guidance and support: If you know your child is being targeted then offer guidance and support in spades, but try not to jump in and take action yourself. The aim is to have your child be able to resolve the conflict themselves so that all the skills are in place to prevent or cope with any future incidents. Perhaps you could suggest that they bring it up with a teacher they can trust, or you could work together with your child to come up with an action plan to avoid future attacks.
- Take action: If your child is unable or unwillinging to resolve a cyberbullying attack, then you may wish to take action yourself. Try approaching the school; speak directly to the principal, form leader or a teacher you trust. Even though cyberbullying happens online, much of the culture around bullying is established and perpetuated at school, so it’s something every school should take seriously and be willing to address.
- Time heals: An important message to communicate is that, whatever the cyberbullying attack, it won’t last forever. It’s a difficult time to get through, but with your love, guidance and support, as well as that of their real friends, your child will be able to move on as they learn to build real, lasting friendships and not give credence to cyberbullies.
Where can I go for more information?
- internetmatters.org Gives information on how to make the most of your computer and internet settings and protect your child from online threats.
- http://stopcyberbullying.org/reportfbabuse/ Gives information on how to report cyberbullying for a variety of different social media forums.
- bullyingnoway.gov.au A general guide to bullying and what to do about it whether you’re a parent, carer, teacher or child. There’s also a section on cybersafety under the “Facts about bullying” tab in the section for parents.
- digizen.org Promotes the concept of being a good DIGital citIZEN (hence, DIGIZEN) and creating awareness of your presence in the online world. Resources for parents, teachers and kids including a downloadable pdf on cyberbullying and a dedicated kidSMART website where kids can play games, enter competitions and test their cyber awareness.
- www.ncab.org.au – The National Centre Against Bullying, or NCAB for short, provides useful resources to combat bullying as well as the latest news and research into bullying and behaviour.