Cyberbullying is a quaint term whose simplicity hides a deeply disturbing phenomenon. With children spending around three hours a day online bullies have never had more opportunity to make their lives a misery. Where traditional bullying ends at the school gates, cyberbullying can be relentless, following kids into their lives at home and leaving them harassed for every moment they are awake.
Recent studies have shown that 45% of children admit they have experienced bullying online, and 50% of those further admit to being scared of their bullies. Only 20% of these children will tell a parent or teacher what is happening to them, and most parents won’t pick it up for themselves as 92% of cyberbullying attacks are held through chatting and commenting on social media websites. Children who are cyberbullied are as much as nine times more likely to commit suicide than those who aren’t.
So what can be done to stop it?
Talk to them
The first step is communication. Parents should speak to their children about the phenomenon before they even think there is a problem. Ask them what they have heard about it, and whether they have ever been bullied or seen someone else be bullied. Children often worry that telling an adult will make the harassment worse once the bully finds out, or that teachers and parents won’t be able to do anything to stop the abuse. Understanding what your child is experiencing will allow you to take practical steps to their stop their being bullied, or even to stop them from bullying others before it becomes a serious problem. Opening the lines of communication on the subject will make it easier for children to approach you in future too.
Teach them about bullying and how to react
The ideal situation is to make it hard for people to cyberbully your children in the first place. Teach them to protect their data, and keep their passwords secure.
A favourite trick of the cyberbully is to create fake social media accounts in a child’s name, or to “hijack” their social media, then use those accounts to ruin their reputation. This is simply not possible if your child is posting no photos or information online. If they do open accounts teach them to be very careful who they befriend online and not to let people they don’t know, or accounts they don’t fully trust, to access their data. A friend request from someone who is mean at school is very rarely a sign they want to be friends.
It’s also important to let your child know that if they are being bullied it is not their fault, and is not a reflection on their personality at all. Further explain that if someone does try to cyber bully them, the best response is to simply not retaliate. The reaction is what makes bullies think they are in control. Advise your child to avoid confrontations and to rather mute, or block their aggressors without saying a thing to them.
Notice the signs
A child who is being bullied will display noticeable signs that you should be looking out for. Your child might be being bullied if:
There is a noticeable increase or decrease in device use.
Your child suddenly shuts down or starts up brand new social media accounts.
Your child appears angry or upset after using their device.
Your child hides their screen and refuses to discuss what has happened online. While part of this could be innocent, combined with other signs it should be considered a concern,
Your child changes their behaviour and starts avoiding social occasions, or things they used to enjoy doing.
Your child loses interest in other people or becomes withdrawn. Look for them skipping classes, or refusing to eat.
Once the basic signs have been noticed or if you suspect your child may be involved in cyberbullying its important to immediately take action. Speak to your child, but if they refuse to open up it’s important that you do whatever you can to prevent it going on. Monitor your child’s device use and take a look at social media accounts. Insist on having the passwords, while always telling your child you are looking out for their best interests and want to stop whatever negative things may be happening to them.
If necessary install a monitoring app like Pumpic, which allows you to monitor all social media use, and even see smses as they come in. If you find evidence of abuse copy and record it all. The one positive side of cyberbullying is that it is easy to prove with enough diligence.
Once you have enough evidence take it to other parents and teachers so that a community response can be organised to ensure the bullying stops. The bully needs to be held accountable as quickly as possible. It is easy for someone to act cruelly toward others in the anonymity of the internet, and much harder if they know everyone is aware of what they are doing.