Cyberbullying: Protect Your Child
Online bullying is a serious concern for parents today. Due in large part to the popularity of social media platforms and other forms of digital communication, online harassment and abuse are unfortunately a common reality for many children. According to one study, 28% of 11-16 year olds in the UK reported that they have been victims of cyberbullying (Beatbullying, Virtual Violence II, 2012). However, there are likely more unreported cases.
This article aims to help you better understand what cyberbullying is and its potential impact on your child’s wellbeing, and to advise you on protecting your child against it.
What exactly is cyberbullying?
As a general definition, cyberbullying is the attempt to harm, harass or intimidate someone online or using a mobile device. Cyberbullying commonly takes place on social networks (e.g. Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook) and messaging apps (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger), and in chatrooms or on online gaming platforms.
Online bullying can manifest in many ways, including:
- Sending threatening and/or abusive messages via instant messaging or social media.
- Creating or sharing content online intended to publicly humiliate someone.
- Excluding or blocking others from friendship groups, online games, group chats, or similar.
- Impersonating someone by creating fake accounts, or hacking their account.
- Spreading nasty rumors or gossip.
The causes of cyberbullying can be complex, and the bully’s motivations difficult to understand. However, one common factor is lack of self-esteem in the bully, and their desire to feel superior over someone else. In many cases, these children have been victims of bullying themselves. Additional notable factors include peer pressure, a lack of understanding of the pain being caused, and even boredom.
Victims of cyberbullying often experience social isolation and low self-esteem, truancy and difficulties with school performance, as well as mental health problems like depression and anxiety. In severe cases, cyberbullying has encouraged children and young people to self-harm or even take their own life.
Why is it so harmful?
One unique aspect of cyberbullying is anonymity. Victims may have no idea who is bullying them if their abusers create anonymous accounts, which is a scary and intimidating experience. Anonymity can also influence the behaviour of bullies for the worse. For example, the harm caused by sending anonymous messages online may feel less tangible to them than verbal or physical harm.
The nature of publishing content online exacerbates the issue. Social media posts, for instance, are public, spread extremely quickly, and cannot easily be controlled. This makes cyberbullying difficult to deal with before it has a chance to spiral out of control.
Unlike bullying on the school playground, cyberbullying can occur anywhere and at any time. This makes it difficult for victims to avoid, especially given how heavily the social lives of young people revolve around technology. As a result, cyberbullying victims may feel there is no escape, even when trying to relax at home.
How can I help protect my child from cyberbullying?
- Open communication: Communicating openly about the topic is key, whether they are the perpetrator or
victim of cyberbullying. Encouraging them to open up to you, rather than simply restricting their internet access, can help build trust and ensure they keep you in the loop.
- Online safety and etiquette: Make sure your child understands the potential risks of using the internet and social media, and that certain things should not be shared online. Additionally, guide them through the privacy settings of the social media platforms and apps they use, such as how to block users and report abusive content.
- SafeToNet: Explain SafeToNet’s features to your child and how they provide them help with cyberbullying.