What is cyberbullying? How to spot if your child is being bullied online

Cyberbullying leaves thousands of kids in the UK too frightened to go to school, depressed and in some cases 'suicidal'. Cyberbullying is on the rise as more and more children have mobile phones and access to the internet.

It might seem like cyberbullying is difficult to beat – because cyberbullies are less likely to be caught in the act – but there are steps you can take to help protect your child.

A quarter of those under 18 using social media have experienced something upsetting online. Furthermore, a study from OFCOM carried out in 2017 suggests that around one in eight young adults have been bullied online.

Ditchthelabel.org, an anti-bullying charity, estimates that around 5.43 million young people in the UK have been the victims of cyberbullying.

If you worry about cyberbullying, read on to learn more about how to spot the signs, what to do if you find out your child is being cyber-bullied.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying means sending unpleasant messages via text, email or social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. It’s just as serious as other types of bullying and it can happen 24 hours a day.

How to spot the signs of bullying and cyberbullying

Your children could be reluctant to tell you if they’re being bullied. The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) recommends you look out for one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Showing signs of stress such as being moody, silent or crying.
  • Making excuses to miss school.
  • Seeming upset after using the internet or mobile, or changing their behaviour.
  • Being withdrawn.
  •  Having more scrapes or bruises than usual.
  • Changing their eating habits.
  • Having torn clothes, school things that are broken or missing or having ‘lost’ money.
  • Sleeping badly.

What to do if your child is experiencing cyberbullying

If you’ve found out that your child is experiencing cyberbullying, follow this advice from Sue Atkins,- a parent coach and creator of positive-parents.com, on how to stop it.

  • If they get a nasty message, keep it and keep a record of it.
  • Never reply to the bully.
  • If your child is being bullied by mobile phone, they can change their number.
  • If your son or daughter receives a malicious call, get them to put the phone down, but don’t hang up – just leave it alone and let the caller talk to themselves.
  • Don’t take away your child’s phone or access to the internet – they’ll feel as if they’re being punished.
  • If your child is being bullied, don’t let them suffer in silence.  Speak to the school by visiting the class teacher or form tutor.
  • Remember bullying can be really bad for your child’s self esteem – help them to build their confidence.

How to prevent cyberbullying

  • Teach them to only add trusted friends and family to social network sites.
  • Tell them not to lend their phone to other people.
  • Tell them not to give out their phone number on internet chat rooms.
  • Remind them that camera phone messages can be traced and forwarded – they should be careful what picture messages they send and who they send them too.
  • If your child receives a video or a photo of someone else being hurt they need to know that it’s okay to tell you. They shouldn’t feel like they’re being a ‘snitch’.
  • Make sure your child is cautious if they have Bluetooth or Airdrop on their phone and tell them not to accept messages or images from people they don’t know.
  • Make sure your kids have the confidence to reject calls from people they don’t know.
  • Get them to adjust the privacy settings covering their online profiles.

Have a look at our guide on how to keep kids safe online for more information on Facebook and other social networking sites. If you are worried about your child take a look at our guide on how to talk to your children about mental health.

Internet Matters

Children can find it hard to talk to their parents about cyberbullying, as they may be concerned that their parents will get involved and make the problem worse, or that they will stop them spending time online.

We’ve teamed up with Internet Matters to help provide all the information you need about cyberbullying. For the right advice about dealing with cyberbullying, visit internetmatters.org/cyberbullyingVideo.

Internet Matters is a a not-for-profit organisation that works with online safety experts to give advice to you and your family. The website will not only help you understand the nature of cyberbullying and suggest what you can do to keep your child safe, but also alert you to the signs that your child might be affected.