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

Cyberbullying is on the rise as more and more children have mobile phones and access to the internet.

Cyberbullying leaves thousands of kids in the UK too frightened to go to school, depressed and in some cases ‘suicidal’. 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.

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. 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.

A study by the charity, Beatbullying and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) showed that 1 in 4 children aged 11 to 16 have been cyberbullied. Malicious texts and Facebook comments are the most common forms of cyberbullying and children have also been targeted on Instagram and YouTube.

If you worry about your kids being cyberbullied, read on to learn more about how to spot the signs, what to do if you find out your child is being bullied and

how we can beat cyberbullying.

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, or bullying a younger sibling or friend.
* Making excuses to miss school, such as stomach complaints or headaches – or skipping school altogether.
* Seeming upset after using the internet or mobile, or changing their behaviour – for example no longer wanting to look at a new text immediately or being secretive and unwilling to talk about their online activities and phone use.
* 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.
* Wetting the bed.

What to do if your child is being bullied

If you’ve found out that your child is experiencing cyberbullying, follow this advice from Sue Atkins on how to stop it.

* If they get a nasty message, keep it and keep a record of it. If it’s a text, save it. If it’s a message on the internet, print it out.
* Never reply to the bully – they want a reaction and they might just get bored if you don’t give them one.
* Get them to take a break from their computer or phone for a few days – again, the bully might just get bored.
* If your child is being bullied by mobile phone, they can change their number. Just go to their service provider (EE, Vodaphone, O2 and so on), it’ll be quick and easy!
* 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. That wastes the callers time and money. If the same person calls back, get them to answer the phone and not say anything. It can take a bit of training because your child might be anxious about these calls.
* 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. Monitor the bullying and keep a record of it. Speak to the school by visiting the class teacher or form tutor first. If you’re not satisfied, keep an eye on the bullying and go to the head teacher or head of year.
* Be sensitive. It’s better to strike when the iron is cold, which is easier said than done. Going down to the school all guns blazing doesn’t necessarily get the best reaction.
* Remember bullying can be really bad for your child’s self esteem – help them to build their confidence.

How to prevent cyberbullying

Just like any other kind of bullying, cyberbullying can happen in any school to just about any child. We spoke to Sue Atkins – a parent coach and creator of positive-parents.com, about how to protect your child from cyberbullies. She said:

* Teach your son or daughter to always tell someone they trust if bullying is happening – whether that’s you, a teacher or someone else in authority. Let them know they’re not being a snitch – sending abusive or threatening messages is actually against the law.
* Teach them to only add trusted friends and family to social network sites like Facebook, to their email address list and to their phone book. They should be careful who they add and not be afraid to turn down friend requests on facebook, but don’t frighten them.
* 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. The same goes for emails, texts and messages on social networking sites as these can also be traced and forwarded.
* Teach them not to take inappropriate pictures in swimming pools, school changing rooms and so on. Bring these subjects out into the open and talk about them. Make sure your child knows what to do if they see someone else taking inappropriate photos.
* 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 on their phone and tell them not to accept messages from people they don’t know.
* Make sure your kids have the confidence to reject calls from people they don’t know.
* Talk with your kids openly about all these issues and teach them safety. It helps if you understand about technology too.
* Talk to your children about how they use the internet and their favourite sites. Encourage them to show you how they use the internet and to talk to you about any concerns they have. Show an interest rather than a distrust.
* Get them to adjust the privacy settings covering their online profiles.

To help adjust your child’s Facebook privacy settings, go to home, click on the privacy settings and tools button at the top, see more settings then edit the various privacy options by selecting ‘Friends’ from the list. Only your child’s friends will then be allowed to message them and look at your child’s profile, pictures and messages. Facebook also allows your child to make a list of close friends, friends and aquaintances and to also list people who can only see your child’s limited profile.

Have a look at our guide on how to keep kids safe online for more information on Facebook and other social networking sites.

For the right advice about dealing with cyberbullying, visit internetmatters.org/cyberbullyingVideo