With increasing numbers of primary age children using social networking sites and getting their first mobile phone, it is really important that those closest to children and young people are able to help and support them. They need to learn how to stay safe and use technology responsibly early and to continue to be supported with this issue as they grow older.
Signs of cyberbullying
You may be unsure if your child is being bullied. If you suspect this may be happening, look out for the following signs.
Your child could:
- show signs of stress - being moody, silent or crying, or bullying a younger sibling or friend;
- make excuses to miss school, such as stomach complaints or headaches, or your child may skip school altogether;
- seem upset after using the Internet or mobile phone, or change their behaviour - for example, no longer wanting to look at new text messages immediately and be secretive and unwilling to talk about their online activities and phone use;
- be withdrawn in their behaviour, have more bruises and scrapes than normal;
- change their eating habits;
- have torn clothes, missing or broken school things, or have 'lost' money;
- sleep badly;
- wetting the bed.
There could be other reasons for these signs, so you need to ask yourself:
- Could there be anything else bothering your child?
- Could there be changes in your family life, like a new baby, or divorce or separation that may be affecting your child's behaviour?
When a child is the target of cyberbullying, they can feel alone and misunderstood. It is therefore vital that, as a parent or carer, you know how to support your child if they are caught up in cyberbullying.
Responding to cyberbullying
Support and encourage your child if they tell you they have been cyberbullied. Reassure them that it is not their fault and that they have made the right choice by reporting it to you. Tell them that bullying is not acceptable and inform them of what you will do next by following the tips below:
- Make sure your child does not retaliate or reply to cyberbullying messages of any kind.
- Help your child to save evidence of cyberbullying. Use online tools or the 'print screen' button on your computer and do not delete text messages on a mobile phone.
- If you need to, you can help your child change their contact details (email, online username, mobile phone number) to prevent further bullying.
- Use the security tools on your family's computer, on websites or on your child's mobile phone.
- Report cyberbullying. You can report the incident to your child's school, the website or service provider, and, in serious cases, the Police.
Do not suggest to your child that they stop using their computer or mobile phone. Young people are very reliant on technology and suggesting they protect themselves by withdrawing use of computers or mobile phones will be penalising them further when they have already been victimised.
Parents and carers are crucial in supporting young people to deal with cyberbullying effectively. Further help and information can be found on the Childnet International's Know It All for parents, an excellent and comprehensive website, and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) website.