Cyberbullying is any bullying behaviour that takes place virtually. It can be harassment or humiliation over text, social media or any type of technology from one person to another.
Cyberbullying is often linked to traditional bullying (e.g. bullying at school). In fact, studies have reported that it is relatively rare that a child experiences cyberbullying only. Some experts suggest that cyberbullying is an extension of offline bullying.
This indicates that children who are being cyberbullied might be in a particularly tough situation. They are likely to be targeted anywhere and anytime – at school and at home. It becomes very hard for them to escape attacks.
A Vicious Cycle: Another important characteristic of cyberbullying is that it is not uncommon for victims to become cyberbullies themselves.
Posting provoking and insulting comments on social media posts, in discussion forums or on gaming platforms. Trolls can be complete strangers to their victims. Their goal is to trigger responses from other users to stir up arguments.
Continuously sending hurtful, threatening and abusive messages to a victim. Can be classed as a criminal offence.
Distributing someone else’s personal information without their consent.
A pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, or contact online that causes fear in the victim - often occurs on the basis of intense feelings.
Spreading false information about someone with the intention to damage their reputation.
Publishing sexually explicit content of the victim on the internet. This kind of revenge might be pursued by an ex-partner after a breakup.
Creating a false profile on the internet to lure someone into a relationship.
As mentioned, cyberbullying can be an extension of traditional bullying. If you are worried that your child might be a cyberbullying victim, it can be helpful to observe both online and offline behaviours. Please note, the list below is only for guidance purposes, each child reacts to bullying in a different way. Some signs might also point at other mental health problems.
Talk About It
Find a good moment to tell your child that you are worried. Explain to them what bullying is and ask if anything like this is happening to them. They might be reluctant to talk to you at first, so let them know that they can talk to you if anything happens.
Share Help Contacts
If your child doesn’t want to talk to you, let them know that they can have a chat with another trusted adult, a teacher or anonymously reach out to a counsellor at Childline.
Tell your child that they can come to you if anything happens. Let them know that you won’t take away their phone, even if they admit that they are being bullied. They might refuse to tell you about what’s going on if they think that you might stop them from going online.
The cyberbullying is likely to be connected to a predator from the child’s offline world. If that is the case, it is important to take action both online and offline.
It’s understandable if you feel angry or upset. You might experience an urge to respond to the bullies or to reach out to their parents. But it’s important not to retaliate. Your child will also feel an array of emotions, so it’s important for you to keep calm.
Taking away a child’s phone can make them feel more isolated and nervous about what’s happening online.
Tell your child what you are planning to do to tackle the bullying. Give them options and identify steps they could take to help solve the problems – such as collecting evidence, blocking bullies or talking to a teacher. This will help them to regain control.
Assist your child in taking screenshots of the cyberbullying. Note down what happened, names, dates, etc. Ask your child what they have already tried to do to stop it.
Help your child to report bullying content and block the predators on the respective websites/apps.
If the bully is another student from your child’s school, you should get in touch with the class teacher. Schools are required to take appropriate measures to tackle bullying. You can ask for a copy of their anti-bullying policy.
While cyberbullying in itself is not considered a crime in the UK, in particularly severe cases (threats of violence, stalking, hate crimes, harassment, or abuse of sexual nature) the police should also be contacted for help. A GP or child counsellor can help if you are concerned about your child’s mental wellbeing.
It can be difficult for a parent to think of their child as a perpetrator. Signs of cyberbullying behaviour can be easily missed. You might not even find out that your child is bullying others until you receive a complaint from a school.
As mentioned above, it is also not uncommon for the roles of a victim and perpetrator to become blurred in cyberbullying. This might be a possible explanation for your child’s behaviour – but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for attacking others.
Some children might also think that they are simply having a laugh. This might be particularly true for trolling, when the victim is not personally known to the child. That is why it is important to make sure that your child understands how things that happen online can influence feelings and relationships in real life.