Cyber-Bullying: Recognizing and Protecting your children from the dark side of the internet
Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Technology today is everywhere. Whether we like it or not, our children's exposure and knowledge of technology and the internet is vast. Although technology has provided us with many benefits allowing us to access information, entertainment and connections with the click of the button, there is a very dark side that can be extremely damaging and harmful to our children. In today's society, technology has become commonplace for not only socialising but education, banning or prohibiting access is not the answer as children will find other means of accessing the internet behind your back. Instead, it is critical for parents to understand the potential dangers, proactively monitor your child's use and behaviour, and establish open communication to discuss your concerns and child's wellbeing.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when a person uses digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person.
Cyberbullying happens in lots of different ways – in text messages, emails and online games, and on social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Tumblr etc.
A few examples include:
Posting unwanted pictures or messages to social media outlets.
Sending harassing text messages
Creating fake accounts to impersonate someone else
Accessing private files or folders on personal computers
Cyberbullying can be particularly distressing for children as they feel there is no refuge. The bully is not confined to a physical space and can bully the child from anywhere at anytime. The child can feel the bully's omnipresence and feel as if there is no escape. In some cases, online bullying also allows the bully to be anonymous causing the child more distress as they dont know who is responsible.
Warning signs your child is experiencing cyber bullying can include:
Withdrawal from family and spending a lot of time alone
Reluctance to let parents or other family members anywhere near their mobiles, laptops etc
Finding excuses to stay away from school or work including school refusal
Friends disappearing or being excluded from social events
Losing weight or changing appearance to try and fit in
Fresh marks on the skin that could indicate self-harm and dressing differently such as wearing long sleeved clothes in the summer to hide any marks
A change in personality i.e. anger, depression, crying, withdrawn
Long term, recurrent bullying can also lead to more severe emotional disturbances including anxiety, depression and stress-induced disorders. Hence it is essential that action is taken immediately to address and minimize the damage caused.
Ofcourse the best method is prevention. Speak to your child openly about the internet and it's dangers. Below are a few ideas that can help prevent cyberbullying:
Talk with your child about what cyberbullying is
Discuss what to do if they experience cyberbullying ( e.g. Never respond to the bully as it only encourages them to continue, Save a record of the conversation as evidence, and speak to an adult and seek their help).
Practice real-world social skills with your child which can help them online ( e.g. 'No means No', If someone is mean/disrespectful avoid interaction/block them, If it isn't kind/hurtful to someone, there is no reason to post/like/share it) .
Keep lines of communication open (it is important for your child to know they can come to you with any problems and they wont be punished)
Teach your child respect and empathy for others online
Understand what devices, apps and technology your child is using
Keep technology out of your child’s bedroom (and other areas where it can be used without supervision).
Follow your children's social media accounts so you can monitor any bullying.
Unfortunately, sometimes it is too late. In that case you may follow the below steps to support your child during this difficult time.
What can you do as a parent if your child is being cyberbullied?
The most important thing is to show your child comfort and support.
Comfort your child: Acknowledge your child's bravery and honesty in coming to you. Remind them that the comments/action of the bully are a reflection of their negative qualities and not your child.
Report, Block and Delete Bully: Support your child to block, delete and report the bully on the platform.
Gather Evidence: Ask your child to share all evidence (screenshots of messages, pictures, comments) with you.
Monitor usage and wellbeing: Keep an eye on your child's demeanour and emotional wellbeing. This may have impacted their self esteem and they may experience low mood, anger, loss of interest in others, changes in sleep and eating patterns etc. It is important to create moments of enjoyment and fun to keep your child happy and occupied with other things (e.g. Playtime with friends, watching movies together, etc.)
Lodge a formal complaint : If the identified bully is known to your child, you can always inform the school and parents and let them take disciplinary action and prevent future occurences. If the bully is unknown or an adult, the police have a Cyber Crime unit within the Criminal Investigation department. The Computer Readiness Emergency Team (CERT) can also support in taking a particular page or site blocked. If the child is under 18, you may also report it to the National Child Protection Authority.
National Child Protection Authority – 1929
CERT – 0112691692
Cyber Crime Unit – 0112326979
Grassrooted Trust – 0763488622
Women In Need – 0114718585
The important thing to remember is technology is here to stay. We must be equipped to deal with the challenges that may arise; teach your children digital etiquette and online safety. If you are open, honest, supportive and understanding of your child's interest and behaviour online, you can discuss their experiences openly and identify and protect them from dangers in advance.
Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at email@example.com for further support.