A guide to online bullying for parents and guardians
Cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality of our lives today, and when it comes to children, exposure to this form of bullying can lead to plummeting self-confidence, isolation, and mental health issues.
But how do you know? First of all, let's start with what cyberbullying means. Cyberbullying is an umbrella term for harassment, abuse, intimidation, the humiliation of, or threatening someone through digital means -- including through Facebook, tweets, chat apps, and forums. A child could be cyberbullied through insulting messages, embarrassing or manipulated images of them being posted online, cruel posts related to them, and much more.
It is a topic that has to be brought up with sensitivity and caution. If you find your child is being cyberbullied, it is important to record any evidence at hand of these activities, including text messages, screenshots of social media posts, and a diary of incidents to bring up to the school -- or if necessary, the legal system.
I am worried my child may be bullying others.
It is best to deal with bullying behavior as soon as possible before it gets too serious or becomes a regular pattern. Click here for useful advice on how to help them form good habits at an early age.
I think my child is being bullied.
Your child may be hesitant to tell you if they are experiencing online bullying because they fear it might make things worse for them or that you may restrict their access to devices and the Internet.
Signs to watch for:
being upset after using the Internet or their phone
appearing lonely or distressed
a decline in their physical health
changes in personality: becoming withdrawn, sad, angry, or anxious
changes in who your child is friends with
a decline in school work/grades
a change in sleeping patterns
avoidance of school activities
becoming secretive with their online activity and telephone usage
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
Stay calm, open, and don't panic.
You want your child to feel confident that you are not going to be upset, angry, or anxious if they tell you about the situation. You want them to know that they can open up to you -- you are their safe space. The best way to do this is to maintain an open dialogue. Talk to them without being judgmental or angry -- you want your child to feel like they can come to you without fear of being punished or reprimanded.
Listen, think, and pause
Gauge the scale of the problem. Does it exist in their group of friends or is it more widespread? Is it an isolated problem or a common occurrence? How serious is the abuse? Let your child know that you understand how they feel.
How badly is affecting your child? If the bullying is not intense but your child seems seriously affected, this could be a symptom of a larger problem. If this is the case, you may need to seek professional help for your child.
Try not to respond immediately. Take time to consider the most effective course of action. Reassure your child that you are working to figure out the best options for them and let them know you are there to talk in the meantime.
Act to protect your child if necessary
If your child is being threatened or if they indicate a wish to harm themselves, you should seek professional help. If the child's safety is at risk, call 911. Click here to access available resources if you suspect your child is being cyberbullied.
Empower your child
Whenever possible, try to build your child's confidence and help them make wise decisions for themselves. If you feel they may be struggling to open up to you, connect them with another trusted adult or seek professional support.
Take screenshots and collect evidence (including dates and times) before you or your child block someone or delete posts. This evidence may be useful if the bullying continues and you need a record of how long it has carried on. If you wish to report the issue, this evidence will come in handy. HOWEVER, if the bullying involves sexual images, be aware that possessing or sharing such images (if the people involved are under 18) may be a crime.
Manage contact with others
Advise your child to ignore the bully, as responding could make the situation worse. If they already responded, encourage them to cease communication immediately. Show your child how to block or unfriend the person sending the messages (how to block someone on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter). Have your child ask their friends if mean content is still being posted and if so, have them report it.
Consider seeking support from your child's school
Oftentimes, schools will have policy in place to address cyberbullying and may be able to provide necessary support (whether or not the bullying is coming from a student at your child's school). Always be sure to check with your child first before you reach out to their teacher or school counselor.
Check in with your child from time-to-time to see how they're doing. Keep an eye on their habits, their ability to concentrate, and their mood in general. If you notice changes that concern you, seek help for your child through counselling or online support.