It’s the last thing, as a responsible parent, you want to think about. Your child being bullied. We live in a society that is becoming increasingly obsessed with social media, and so it follows that what used to only happen in classroom corridors, at recess or on the school bus home is now spilling over online in a much harder and much more personal form.
Cyber bullying is something that more parents, guardians and carers need to be aware of, especially when it comes to the signs and how to deal with it.
Here, we’ll examine the phenomenon and what can be done about it.
Put simply, cyber bullying is online harassment that takes place either in a single instance or over a regular period of time. It will, more often than not, happen on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. The harassment can either be public or private.
It also requires the use of electronic mediums such as a laptop, desktop computer, a smartphone or tablet. It can even be done via games consoles. The perpetrators therefore will need to be old enough and have a good enough understanding of how these mediums operate.
Whereas bullying in the ‘real world’ usually happens in a specific location, like a school club or on the school bus, cyberbullying is not restricted to one place, and usually, the victim is not safe in their own home, as that is more often than not where they will access the applications that the bully is using to target them.
As online communities can sometimes afford everyone using them a fair degree of anonymity, the people carrying out bullying attacks can often mask themselves making it hard for the victim to know who to trust in real life. The mask of anonymity also affords the bully the freedom from guilt over their actions, as they will not be able to see the effect their words are having on the person they are attacking.
Cyberbullying therefore becomes all pervading and can take over pretty much all aspects of the victim’s life with little or no opportunity for escape, unless they cut themselves off from the internet, or switch their mobile phone off.
It is capable of reaching out to a much wider audience than forms of bullying that are more commonly recognized. For instance, videos or films of people that are perhaps embarrassing in nature, or show harm or hurt coming to others can rapidly spread through social media outlets and encourage others to join in with the bullying.
Yes, there are. There are so many different ways to carry out this kind of harassment and the range of ways in which it can be carried out are also much more diverse. Looking at how children and teenagers connect with each other through online technology is one of the best ways to understand whether or not they are risking exposing themselves to cyberbullying or not. Research that has been carried out on the phenomenon distinguishes types of cyberbullying based on two different precepts. Firstly, the method of communication used for the bullying and secondly what kind of behaviour the bullying entailed.
Cyberbullying happens on any type of device and through websites, platforms or apps that allow people to talk to each other electronically.
The most common methods for cyberbullying are via gaming consoles, laptops, mobile phones or smartphones, tablets, websites, applications or other services such as email, file sharing sites, instant messaging and text messaging and social networking sites. It seems that certain methods of bullying are used more than others. Initially, cyberbullying was carried out more through the medium of texting and instant messaging services. As years have progressed and the internet become more sophisticated it was more common to find that cyberbullying was carried out via email, online gaming and social networking sites.
The behaviour surrounding cyberbullying can involve written or verbal attacks, threats of physical violence, name calling, putting people down in front of others, following someone without their knowledge (known as cyberstalking), setting up fake profiles to harass someone, prank or silent phone calls, outing or gaslighting people, impersonating someone or rumour spreading.
Traditionally, it’s assumed that boys will involve themselves in more physical aspects of bullying such as fighting. Girls will use more indirect methods such as gossiping and rumour spreading.
The general assumption is that girls are more ‘suited’ to this kind of bullying and there is support for this, with some studies suggesting that girls are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying than boys. However, there are also studies to suggest that there are no overall differences between the sexes.
There is less known and written about the perpetrators of cyberbullying, and it seems that propensity to cyberbully is not dependent on gender. Given the nature of online communication and the methods available for anonymity, this would be generally difficult to monitor.
It can be hard to know or to even find out if your child is being cyberbullied. This is due to the insidious nature of how it is undertaken and also, the reluctance for children to open up about this kind of thing, especially if they are worried about potential repercussions or retaliation.
Some parents who have had their suspicious aroused will perhaps want to talk to their children and even monitor things like how much online or screen time their child has. Whilst this could potentially go some way to lessening the impact of bullying, it can’t stop it altogether. As parents, you have to accept the fact that you can never really know for certain what is going on in the lives of your children when they surf the internet and use social media.
The major key here is talking and communication, without being heavy handed or laying the law down. If you suspect that your child is being cyberbullied, gently try and talk to them about it, and even if they don’t want to open up immediately, make sure to check in with them as frequently as you can. Making your conversation light and friendly and trying to find out about who amongst their peer group is nice and friendly, and anyone they may have a problem with is a good place to start.
Keep a check on your child’s emotions and mannerisms. Are they suddenly anxious and moody? Are they in the same mood after they have checked their online social media accounts, or does their attitude change afterwards?
You don’t need to be heavy handed about this or even violate their personal privacy and space to find out what is going on. It’s just important that you pay attention to your child, always listen to them and keep the lines of communication open . Children can often feel backed into a corner with online bullying and they need to feel there is an approachable adult they can turn to, who will help and advice rather than complicating the situation and being gung-ho.
Don’t try and handle the problem for them, although you may want to step in. Cyberbullying can make the victim feel helpless and alone, so ask your child what you can do to help. Listen to them and offer advice but let them know they’re in control of the situation.
Cyberbullying can really damage self-esteem, so do what you can to encourage and build them up during these times. As a parent, focus on what you can do to motivate them and build their independence. Offer words of advice and encouragement and let your child know you are there for them whatever.
If you are genuinely concerned about the welfare of your child and believe you know who may be perpetrating the bullying attacks, it is important that you do not tackle this yourself. If possible, a quiet word with a school teacher or someone in authority can help.
There may be other children’s parents who have reported similar issues. In cases of online bullying where it is not clear who the perpetrator may be, it can sometimes be worth contacting the police, especially if there are genuine concerns for the welfare of a child. Simple checks and logs to find someone’s IP Address may be all that is needed to find out who the bully is. Remember, let the authorities deal with any major issues and do not try to tackle these yourself.
Raising a child’s confidence is important as is making them aware they are bigger and stronger than any bully. Cyberbullying is not normal behaviour and often the people carrying it out are emotionally damaged in some way. It’s important to remember that whilst the internet and social media can be scary places to be, they’re also a superb space to build friendships and connect with people all over the world that you otherwise would not get the chance to meet.
There are threats everywhere in the world, and cyberbullying, whilst a big problem, is one that can be managed and dealt with by raising and encouraging our children to be confident, independent and self-reliant. The victims of bullying are often a lot stronger than they realize. Learning to deal with cyberbullying can encourage children to become stronger and compassionate in helping others who are going through the same issues.
It’s hard to not overreact in these situations, and it’s also easy to jump to the conclusion that every rude comment you see is some form of cyberbullying against your child. Assuming this can often make your child feel like they are the victim, even when they aren’t. Children are always going to have arguments and disagreements with their friends, just as adults do too. The key is to look for the behaviour that keeps repeating itself and seems to be upsetting your child on a regular basis, rather than one offs.
Before you jump in and make assumptions, gather as much information from your child without violating their privacy or trust. You’re their parent and there to help and guide. Acting without their consent will mean they’re less likely to trust you in future.
Online bullying can be tackled safely and easily by making sure you deal with the matter sensitively and thoughtfully.