What is cyber bullying?

A person or group of people, who purposefully threaten, harass, frighten or upset others through the use of digital technologies.

Cyber bullying occurs online and through mobile phones. Cyber bullying can happen on the school intranet, through instant messaging, on chat rooms, in social media and through SMS and MMS messages. Bullies may use these channels to impersonate the victim, share stories or tell lies to humiliate the victim, create hate groups or hate pages, and generally make the victim feel worthless or scared.

Signs that your child is being cyber bullied

• Nervous, hesitant or jittery to go online
• Appear visibly upset or withdrawn after using a computer or mobile
• Over protective or abruptly cover screens or mobiles when you enter the room
• Avoid school (fake illness, not attending all classes)
• Avoid certain social activities or groups i.e. after school clubs and teams they usually attend
• Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
• Change in personality or mood swings i.e. are more angry, depressed or quiet
• You or your child receives hoax house calls, unusual letters or emails
• Avoidance to answering the door, answering calls or leaving the house

Approaching the subject

The above signs could be a result of something else bothering your child, so when you approach the subject do not automatically assume they are being bullied.

The first time you speak to your child about being bullied, they may well deny it for a number of reasons; fear that the bullying will get worse, fear that the bullying may become physical, fear that you may not believe them or they may just feel embarrassed.

If your child does deny it, consider discreetly speaking to the school, or organisers of the clubs and teams your child attends. Make sure your child also knows that is wrong and that they should talk to an adult even if it’s not necessarily you in the first instance.

It is important that your child feels that they can trust you to inspire them to talk to you. For this reason avoid hacking their computers and mobile phones to look for evidence of bullying unless you are seriously concerned for their welfare.

Dealing with Cyber Bullying
If your child has been the victim of cyber bullying:

• Don’t reply to any messages
• Save copies of all messages
• Block the bullies if possible
• Report the abusive incidents to the web hosts or administrators; Facebook have a specific report link
• Contact the school/club organisers if the person responsible is a student/member there
• Report the incident to the police if extreme and persistent

As a parent it is important to reassure your child that it’s not their fault. Try to emphasise why the bully may be doing it; jealously, anger or a need for control or power by demeaning others.

Try to take your child’s mind of things by encouraging them to focus their energy and stress into something they enjoy i.e. exercise, baking, reading books.

Preventing Cyber Bullying
Social media sites like Facebook have tools for parents in their help centre. Facebook also requires all account holders to be at least 13. If your child is younger than 13, you can report this to Facebook who will delete the account.

Educate your child on the use of privacy settings available online and highlight the importance of not sharing personal information or data, even with their best friend online. Emphasise that once information is online it is difficult for it to be removed, so get them to ask themselves, do I really want the whole world to know this information about me?

Discuss with your child the importance of treating others with respect online as you would do if you were speaking to that person or about that person offline. We all have a tendency to say something hurtful in the heat of an argument, so urge your child to never respond to messages if they feel upset, angry or hurt.

If you want to go further, there are different campaigns online to raise awareness and try to prevent cyber bullying, such as http://www.stopcyberbullying.org

Monitor and restrict the amount of time your child spends online and consider implementing parental control software online and on their mobile phone.