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When children are being bullied, whether it’s online or face to face, they can find it very difficult to talk about. Particularly as children become teens many don’t want to tell their parents as they feel ashamed, scared, helpless and worried about the repercussions. So it’s important to recognise the signs.
If your child tries to avoid school or socialising, becomes withdrawn from family and friends and seems depressed, then these may be symptoms that they are being bullied. In the case of physical bullying you may also find damaged or missing belongings and injuries that your child can’t explain or tries to brush off.
Cyberbullying can be an extension of bullying that’s going on during the school day. What makes online bullying or cyberbullying particularly tough for children is that it can be hard to get away from. Young people could be bullied anywhere, anytime – even when they’re at home – and this can be devastating. Cyberbullying can have a large audience too. Posts on social networks, emails or group chats can be seen by lots of people very quickly. As so much communication happens between children by mobile phone and online, cyberbullying can occur through many channels:
- Text – sending mean, abusive or threatening text messages
- Social networks – posting cruel messages on sites like Facebook or setting up a fake profile or group about someone
- Email or instant message – sending nasty or threatening emails or instant messages
- Sharing embarrassing or inappropriate images – publishing or sharing photos, videos or web cam footage of someone without their permission
- Chatrooms – saying mean, threatening or offensive things about others in online chatrooms
- Interactive games – purposely blocking, ignoring or excluding an individual from multi-player games
Children’s online conversations are lively and they may say things that they wouldn’t necessarily say face to face, so sometimes it’s difficult for children to understand the intent of certain comments without physical cues. Is it a joke or is someone being intentionally hurtful or malicious? We need to help children to understand and recognise this.
If a child is being cyberbullied, it will affect their online behaviour. Signs to look out for are when they:
- stop using the computer suddenly or unexpectedly
- seem nervous or jumpy when an instant message, text message or email appears
- are angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer
- avoid discussions about what they are doing on the computer
People that cyberbully can also remain anonymous, by using fake profiles on social networking sites or blocking their phone numbers. This can make it harder to identify the bullies, but texts and other messages can be saved as proof of the bullying.
Internet Matters is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which aims to help parents keep their children safe online.