Cyberbullying refers to bullying that occurs through information and communication technology such as phone calls, text messages, emails, Internet chat rooms, instant messaging and social networking sites such as Instagram and Facebook.
Cyberbullying activities include leaving insulting or offensive messages on social networking sites, spreading rumours online, sending unwanted emails, text messages or instant messages, and much more. Cyberbullying is particularly concerning as it can happen anywhere and at any time, and so there is no safe haven from bullying behaviour. This type of bullying can cause great distress, and have a negative impact on a child's self-esteem and self-confidence.
Signs to help parents recognise cyberbullying
The secretive and hidden nature of cyberbullying can make it difficult for parents to detect when it is occurring. Some children also feel ashamed when they are a victim of bullying, or may feel afraid to tell others as they believe it may make the situation worse. For this reason, parents need to look at changes in their child's behaviour, which could give a clue that they may be being bullied. These signs may include:
- Sudden aversion to socialising with friends
- Disinterest or avoidance of school
- Dropping out of sports or other recreational activities
- Extreme sleeping behaviour (either lots more or lots less)
- Abnormal nail biting or other minor or severe self harming behaviours
- Abnormal changes in mood and/or behaviour
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Things parents can do
The powerful impact of feeling scared, powerless, helpless, ashamed and other emotions that can result from being cyberbullied, particularly when occurring over a long period, has the capacity for long-lasting effects on children.
Ways that you can protect a child from any long-lasting negative impacts of cyberbullying include:
- Take lots of time to hear, listen and understand your child's story
- Discuss cyber bullying with the child and encourage them to tell you if they're feeling bullied
- Be alert to any abnormal behaviour / mood changes
- Stay calm while your child is telling you his/her story, and be aware of your own reactions.
- Take complaints from the child seriously, do not brush them off
- Try to ascertain what ‘meaning’ the child takes from the bullying, for example whether they believe what the bully says about them
- Assure the child that it is not their fault.
Strategies for young people to deal with cyberbullying
- Tell someone - The most important step is for the child or young person to talk to someone they trust about what is happening. This may be a parent, friend, teacher or counsellor.
- Don't reply to bullying messages - This may make the situation worse. By replying, the bully gets what he or she wants. Often, if the child does not reply, the bully will get bored and leave them alone.
- Block the cyberbully - Depending on the way that the bully is communicating with the young person, it may be possible to block their messages or texts. If your child is not sure how, your phone or internet service provider can help you.
- Report the problem - Your child's school may have policies about cyberbullying and can take action against it. Your ISP or phone provider may also be able to help. Websites like Facebook and MySpace have links where you can report abuse.
- Keep the evidence - Keeping copies of texts, emails, online conversations or voicemails as evidence can be useful if it comes to tracking the bully down.
- Change your contact details - Get a new user name for the internet, a new email account, a new mobile phone number and only give them out to your closest friends.
- Keep your username and passwords secret - Keep your personal information private so it doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who’ll misuse it.
- If messages are threatening or serious, get in touch with the police - Cyberbullying, if it’s threatening, is illegal and the police may be able to take action.