Technology is wonderful, it keeps us connected with friends and family, brings us education and online learning and can come with a range of fantastic opportunities. However, spending time online also has a darker side that we all need to be aware of.
Kids are spending an increasing amount of time on the internet which increases the likelihood of them experiencing some form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is online bullying and it can happen anywhere, at any time. Fortunately, there are ways we can help keep our children safe from cyberbullying. With this guide, parents and teachers will be able to make the virtual world a safer place and will be better prepared to support children who are experiencing cyberbullying.
What Does Cyberbullying Mean?
The term cyberbullying refers to bullying that happens online. It is when technology is used to hurt other people. Any online contact that is made with the intent of intimidating, harassing, humiliating, embarrassing or hurting another person can be considered cyberbullying. When we talk about cyberbullying we are talking about young people, if there is an adult involved this may be cyberstalking or cyber-harassment which may have legal consequences.
What Are Some Examples of Cyberbullying?
- Posting an embarrassing photo of another person online
- Sending mean messages
- Spreading rumours about other people online
- Hacking into someone else’s social media profile
- Pretending to be someone else to spread hurtful messages
- Creating pages/ blogs/ groups etc. to intimidate, demean, upset or impersonate other people
Platforms Where Cyberbullying Can Occur:
- Social Media
- Messaging apps
- Gaming Sites
- Chat rooms
Key Differences Between Bullying and Cyberbullying
Aside from the fact that cyberbullying takes place online, there are some other important differences it is important to be aware of. These include:
1. Cyberbullying is harder to detect and stop
Unlike bullying at school or in the playground which can quickly be spotted and stopped. It is considerably more difficult for a teacher or parent to spot when someone is being bullied online. The victim may not want to talk about the issue with an adult for a variety of reasons which makes handling the problem even more challenging.
2. Cyberbullying can be anonymous so the person responsible is not held accountable
There are ways for people to remain anonymous when they are online. This is sometimes used by bullies as they feel like they can then get away with the bullying and it won’t matter how mean they are to someone else because no one knows it is them. This can also have an impact on the person being bullied as they do not know who is bullying them which can cause isolation and impact friendships.
3. Cyberbullying can reach larger audiences
When something is shared online it can reach large numbers of people very quickly. This can make the person who is being bullied feel like the whole school/ college/ world is against them.
4. Cyberbullying has the potential to be persistent
Bullying used to be limited to the school or playground but with the majority of people having access to smartphones, tablets or laptops this means the lines of communication are open 24/7. Home is no longer a sanctuary away from bullies. This can feel overwhelming as the person being bullied may feel like there is no escape from the bully.
Signs a Child is Being Bullied Online
As we have mentioned, it is incredibly difficult to know when a child is experiencing cyberbullying. Many children don’t want to talk about the situation but some signs may indicate a child is being bullied online. These include:
- Becoming upset when using a phone, computer or tablet
- No longer wanting to use their phone, computer or tablet * this is a red flag as young people tend to be very connected to their devices *
- Avoiding school or gatherings
- Getting into trouble at school more
- An increase in anxiety or stress
- Becoming withdrawn
- Changing eating habits
- Becoming less interested in hobbies
- Being protective over devices and digital life
- Becoming nervous or unsettled when receiving messages/ notifications
- Avoiding talking about activities related to devices or online activities
Is Cyberbullying Common?
The unfortunate reality is that the majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a huge issue throughout the world. As more and more young people use mobile phones and spend time online (83% of 12-15 year olds in the UK have their own smartphone) the amount of online bullying is also increasing.
Cyberbullying does not have geographical restrictions, allowing it to happen literally anywhere to anyone. While cyberbullying takes place online, its negative impact on the victim reaches through to the real world.
- According to UNICEF, 1 in 3 young people in 30 countries said they have been a victim of online bullying. 1 in 5 have skipped school due to cyberbullying and violence.
- According to the Children’s Society, 47% of young people have received intimidating, threatening or nasty messages online.
- In the U.S., 59% of teens have experienced some kind of cyberbullying with offensive name-calling and spreading of false rumours being the most common forms of online harassment.
- According to 2015 Cyberbullying data, adolescent girls are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying (40.6%) than boys (28.2%).
- 64% of students who have been cyberbullied say it affects their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
Social Media’s Role in Cyberbullying
- An estimated 6 billion people are using social media in 2020, this is a figure that is projected to rise to over 4 billion in 2025. Social media is one of the main methods of communication for young people and it plays a prevalent role in cyberbullying too.
- According to Daily Sabah, 20% of social media users are exposed to cyberbullying every day. A large percentage of young people spend a lot of time on social media platforms each day and this is where most of the cyberbullying takes place.
There is increasing pressure on social media companies to protect their users from cyberbullying and other harmful situations:
- 71% of respondents to The Annual Bullying Survey say social networks are not doing enough to prevent cyberbullying.
- A Young Minds survey found that 83% of young people feel that social media companies should do more to tackle cyberbullying.
The first thing to do is talk about cyberbullying with your child or students. Explain what it is and that if they experience something hurtful online it is bullying and it is important to tell an adult about it. Many children are worried that if they talk to an adult about a negative online experience it will cause their devices to be taken away from them. Be sure to talk about your understanding of the importance of online communication to help put their mind at ease.
Now you’ve discussed cyberbullying, put some cyber safety ground rules in place to help make sure online experiences are positive ones. Sit down with your children and discuss these terms. Some potential cyber safety rules include:
- Never say or do things online that you would not say or do in person
- Never share passwords with other people
- Be very careful with online communications as you never really know who you are communicating with
- Set social media accounts to private and only accept friend requests with people you actually know and have met
- Never use social media in a negative manner
- Consider time limits on computer/ device use or restrictions such as no phone during dinner time
- Ensure your children know they can talk to you if they are experiencing online bullying and that doing so will not result in their technology use being restricted.
- What is appropriate to share online and what is not
- Whether you have access to/ monitor your child’s online social media content
Monitoring your child’s online activity can help to keep them safe. Younger children tend to be more open to this as a safeguarding measure but teenagers are far more protective of their social media accounts and activity. There are applications that can be used to monitor or restrict your child’s online activity. Monitoring what your child is saying and doing online is the only way of knowing that they are doing. It is important to pay attention to ensure they are being careful, being kind and not being bullied or bullying others.
Key Points of Online Safety
- When something is shared online it does not go away. Even if you delete it, it may still exist somewhere else on the internet.
- Always think before posting something online.
- People you are “friends” with on social media are different from real friends and the number of online friends you have is not a reflection of how popular you are.
- Always be kind online.
- Online actions have consequences.
How Cyberbullying Effects Children
Just like other forms of bullying, cyberbullying can cause anxiety, stress, depression, low self-esteem and fear. This can have a knock-on effect that can be seen in focus and concentration, willingness to participate in discussions or group activities and interest in activities, learning or hobbies. A child who is experiencing bullying may try to avoid school or social situations altogether.
Young people are never far from a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Unfortunately, this means cyberbullying can make a child feel overwhelmed as the bullying can continue at any time of day, anywhere. In addition to this, if the victim doesn’t know who is bullying them it can cause isolation and alienation among friends and peers.
Cyberbullying can be incredibly tough to deal with. In The Annual Bullying Survey 2017, it was found that of the respondents who were bullied within the past year:
- 37% developed social anxiety
- 36% developed depression
- 24% had suicidal thoughts
- 23% self-harmed
- 21% skipped class
- 12% developed anti-social behaviours
- 12% developed an eating disorder
- 10% ran away from home
- 8% abused drugs and/or alcohol
Common Feelings Someone Who is Being Bullied May Experience:
- Unhappy with themselves
- Anxious and depressed
- Disinterested in life and/or school
How Parents/ Teachers Can Help
If you find out your child or student is being cyberbullied, offer comfort and support. Make sure they are safe and feel safe. Remember that a child that is being bullied will feel alone and vulnerable so try to be supportive without any judgement. Let them know that it is not their fault and that they have done the right thing by talking to you about the situation.
Discuss what has happened, find out if there is evidence of the bullying and whether the victim has responded or retaliated. Even though it may be your initial reaction to remove your children’s devices or stop their internet access, don’t do this. Once you know what the situation is, work together to come up with a plan to deal with the cyberbullying.
Here is an example of how to deal with cyberbullying:
- Don’t respond or retaliate.
- Collect evidence of the cyberbullying (screenshot messages and keep them saved on your phone or computer).
- Block and report the number or account
- Report it to the school or, if there is a safety concern, contact the police
- Keep all social media accounts set to private
Once you have a plan in place, be sure to closely monitor the situation. Discussing cyberbullying with the school is important to help prevent this from happening to other children too. The school should have cyberbullying policies in place and should actively discuss online safety with pupils.
Preventing Cyberbullying Summary
Cyberbullying is a broad topic with a huge reach. It is something that impacts a large number of young people in a variety of ways. It is difficult to monitor what happens online which is why openly discussing cyberbullying with children is essential. Spending time online plays an important role in the lives of young people so it is vital to educate them about the dangers and ways they can stay safe online.
Solving the problem of cyberbullying requires a multi-layered approach that includes schools, students, parents, social media platforms and in some cases, law enforcement.
Preventing Cyberbullying: Tips for Parents
- Talk to your child about online safety and the dangers of cyberbullying.
- Reassure your child that they can talk to you about issues and you won’t take their devices away or limit their internet access etc.
- Monitor your child’s online activities.
- Set ground-rules such as keeping their account private and not accepting friend requests from strangers.
- Make sure you know the schools cyberbullying policy.
- Show your child how to block and report bullies on their social media accounts.
- Discuss the consequences of bullying someone else.
Preventing Cyberbullying: Tips for Children
- Make sure your social media accounts are set to private.
- Think carefully before you post – once you share something online it can still exist even if you have deleted it (for example people could’ve shared or taken screenshots of it).
- Don’t respond to cyberbullies.
- Never share passwords or personal information.
- Save evidence of bullying.
- Talk to your parents or a teacher if you are being cyberbullied or if you have witnessed cyberbullying.
Preventing Cyberbullying: Tips for Schools
- Teach students that same rules apply offline and online.
- Teach students about online safety.
- Discuss bullying and cyberbullying in class or assemblies.
- Supervise computer use within school.
- Encourage students to report bullying to teachers.
- Make parents aware of online risks such as cyberbullying.