Cyberbullying takes place using electronic technology, digital devices. This includes devices and equipment such as mobile phones, computers, and tablets as well as social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Cyberbullying in some ways is similar to the traditional forms of bullying that the parents of today would be familiar with. It can take a number of different forms. Some examples of cyberbullying would be sending threatening messages, spreading lies or rumours online, pretending to be someone else online by creating a fake social media profile, tricking people to reveal personal information and then posting it online or posting embarrassing or hurtful images or videos of someone online.
The main difference between traditional bullying and cyberbullying is that cyberbullying is a 24 hour 7 day a week experience. There is no longer a safe zone for the victim to retreat to. Even in the safety of their own home the bullying continues through digital devices. The bullying is also done in an online environment where the act is seen by a very large audience. This can have a dramatically negative effect on a person’s mental health.
We think of a bully as being the big strong child in the yard. The cyberbully may be the most unassuming child in the school. The cyberbully may also be a victim of traditional physical or verbal bullying in a school. A cyberbully can use the anonymity that a digital device provides to target a child. Children can engage in this behaviour without realising the damage and harm that they are causing to the victim. As the cyberbullying is carried out on a screen, there is a serious emotional disconnect between the cyberbully and the victim.
Children who are being cyberbullied may experience great distress and it may be an even more distressing experience for them to reach out to an adult as they may not wish the adult to know what is being said or posted about them. Even if it not true. Parents and teachers need to be able to recognise the signs of a child experiencing cyberbullying as research has shown that children are not inclined to report it. It is hugely important that if it is discovered that it is stopped immediately and dealt with.
Tips for Parents
- Know what signs to look out for and if you see them you may need to have a conversation with your child.
- Has the child suddenly become uninterested in digital devices and chooses to avoid them
- Is the child getting upset, angry or frustrated after using a digital device
- Is the child unwilling to discuss their experiences online
- Is the child beginning to withdraw and unwilling to go to school or socialise with friends
- Is the child reacting with sadness or anger when a call or message is received on the device
- Is the child quickly switching screens when a parent enters the room
- It is important to maintain an open line of communication with your child. This can be a very distressing and upsetting experience for the child. It may also be an uncomfortable experience for a parent because you may have to issues which are awkward to deal with.
- Parents should approach the child in a non-judgmental and understanding way
- Contact should cease between the child and the bully immediately, neither a child or a parent should ever have a public engagement with a bully online outside of sending a clear message to STOP
- Any content that the child has received should be RECORDED, screen captured etc
- The bully should then be BLOCKED on the social media platform that they are engaging the child on
- Finally the matter should be REPORTED to the social media site, School, Club or Gardai
- This type of behaviour should never be tolerated. Children should be encouraged to report if they see others being cyberbullied
- Parents also have to realise that it may be their child who is in fact the bully. Very often, especially for younger children they may cyberbully another without realising that they are even doing it. What they may see as a bit of fun or slagging may infact be harmful cyberbullying. In this instance parents should
- Acknowledge that there is a problem
- Discuss with the child their online behaviour to see to understand that they are cyberbullying
- Help the child understand how it feels for the victim of the cyberbullying
- Ensure that it stops and if necessary remove the child’s access to the digital device
Symptoms of cyberbully or bullying don’t always show. Any one symptom does not indicate for certain that a child’s being bullied. You could look out for:
- belongings – lost or damaged
- physical injuries such as unexplained bruises
- afraid to go to school, being mysteriously ‘ill’ each morning, or skipping school
- not doing well at school based on their history
- being nervous, losing confidence, or becoming distressed and withdrawn
- problems with eating or sleeping
- bullying others.