What to do if your child is being cyberbullied

In this digital age, cyberbullying is sadly now something we all need to be aware of. But do you know what to look out for and what to do if your child is being cyberbullied?

According to research by the eSafety Commissioner, one in five young people experience cyberbullying and online abuse and 55% seek help from their parents/carers.

To help, Parentline has released a new range of free cyberbullying eResources and training for parents, carers and grandparents. The free online training has been designed to be completed on a range of internet ready devices, including smart phones. Parentline also offers face-to-face training – either as a videoconference or in person – which can be arranged in your community and tailored to your needs.

What is cyberbullying?

The national definition of bullying is: 

  • An ongoing, misuse of power in relationships; through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour, that causes physical and/or psychological harm. 
  • It can involve an individual or a group, misusing their power over one or more persons. 
  • Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be very obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). 
  • Bullying of any form, for any reason, can have long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. 
  • Cyberbullying has the same definition – but occurs online. 

Warning signs to watch out for if you child is being cyberbullied

Every child reacts differently, they may show many of these warning signs or none at all. But if your child is being cyberbullied, here are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Changes in their behaviour (especially around use of their online devices) 
  • Unexpected changes in friendship groups
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Decline in schoolwork or focus
  • Withdrawal from attending school or clubs
  • Expressing or voicing distress or loneliness
  • Increased complaint of headaches, stomach upset or general health concerns

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How to start a conversation

It’s ok to be uncomfortable with difficult conversations, so check in with yourself first and if you are feeling unsure on how it will go, plan the conversation first. Remember, if they are being cyberbullied it will be very challenging for them to raise the topic too. 

  • Be clear with your end goal (for example, do they show signs of needing additional support) as this will help you keep the conversation on track. Plan ahead and use your knowledge of your child’s needs. This will help you seize an opportunity with your child to have a productive conversation or be prepared if the conversation is started by the child. 
  • Take direction from your child. This conversation may not take place all in one hit. Keep the conversation open ended. Let them feel empowered to close the conversation down at any time, but also feel as though they can start it again at anytime. 
  • Time and location are important. Choosing an appropriate time and place that allows for open, one-on-one conversation is important. An interrogation style conversation will decrease the chances of conversation flow. Avoid starting a conversation in a group situation as this may feel like an audience (unless the child initiates the conversation because they perceive the family unit as a safety net). 
  • Resist the urge to retaliate. This is for both you and the child. If you experience the urge to retaliate or seek justice yourself, this is understandable, but not necessarily helpful. Acknowledge these feelings within yourself and use that to help understand their feelings and/or the feelings of your child in wanting to retaliate. Expressing the desire to retaliate is an understandable response to being hurt. The parental role is to listen to these feelings/frustrations of the child, and use this as a time to invite reflection and validate how the online bullying has hurt them and redirect this anger into finding a solution. 

Listen patiently

  • Give your full attention to the conversation. Turn down/off noise and ignore all distractions. 
  • Turn your body towards them, if possible. 
  • Maintain soft eye contact, even if they look away. Demonstrate you are engaged. 
  • Don’t interrupt the flow of conversation. If you need further clarification, wait for a pause and invite them to clarify a point for you. 
  • Watch your tone. Avoid sharp, condescending statements. Speak as through you are equals. 
  • Reserve judgement. If your child tells you something that shocks you, reserve facial expressions or showing outward emotion. 
  • Resist the urge to dismiss the child’s concerns – what you find trivial is not important. 
  • Demonstrate you have heard their concerns by repeating important information back to them in summary form, such as: “Let me clarify I have heard you correctly, You say that Jessie and Andy are posting comments on your Facebook posts and you feel that they are purposely being mean. This started about two weeks ago. You said you have reported this to Facebook, but because the comments don’t have rude words in them, the bullying reports were not recognised by Facebook. As a result, you feel as though no one believes you and they are getting away with bullying you online. Is that correct?” 
  • Resist the urge to ‘fix’ the problem – ask the child if they have a solution in mind. Asking for their opinion will allow them to maintain a sense of control OR open up an opportunity for them to ask for your help/give you permission to help. It is normal to want to jump in and solve the child’s problem for them. However, we will empower the child more by helping them take back ownership of the situation. 

Extracted from Parentline free eResources on cyberbullying.