Cyberbullying has been on the rise in the last couple of years – but what is cyberbullying exactly?
We can define cyberbullying as making use of technology – eg social media, email and texting (3) – to threaten, embarrass and/or harass another person.
Just as with other forms of bulling, cyberbullying behaviour is deliberate and done with the intention of causing harm (1); and it normally takes place between people that are known to each other (3).
6 Types of Cyberbullying
There are currently six identified types of cyberbullying:
- Insults: When false information is posted or forwarded that can harm the reputation of the person that is targeted.
- Harassing: A person is harassed when threatening or emotionally damaging messages are repeatedly sent to him.
- Being targeted: When a person is singled out and others are urged to attack him also.
- Identity theft: When a person pretends to be someone else, to make it look as if a targeted person did something to put him in a negative light.
- Uploading information: It is bullying when emails are shared and/or photos are posted, with the purpose of embarrassing a specific person.
- Excluding or alienating: Placing pressure on individuals to exclude a specific person from a group or activity (1).
Parents often ask me, what are some of the tell-tale signs that a child is a victim of bullying? Often, the parent may notice:
- A sudden change in behaviour and mood;
- A sudden change in friends and friendship groups;
- Starting to spend more time with family than with friends, especially if the child usually enjoyed spending time with friends;
- The child all of sudden doesn’t want to go out of the house, coming up with various excuses – eg feeling sick, having headaches or stomach pains.
- A sudden drop in school marks (3).
- Sudden requests to change schools.
How to Deal with Cyberbullying
As parents, we immediately want to take action and defend our child from cyberbullying, however this may not always be the best idea. Here are some strategies which may help:
- Do not feed the cyber trolls: Individuals that harass another person by posting negative messages online, to upset or dishearten, are called cyber or internet trolls. When you engage with the troll to defend yourself, you are feeding that person and playing into their hands. Reacting to the cyberbully generally will result in further bullying. By not reacting, it is more likely the cyber troll will get bored and move on to their next target (1).
- Let friends stick up for the person being bullied: A very effective strategy against a cyberbully is to get the friends of the victim to provide protection, and to defend the targeted person. Bullies generally choose people who appear to be lonely as their victims, when it appears the targeted person has friends that come to his defence the bully generally backs off (1).
- Make sure the cyberbully is blocked: It is always a good strategy to block all the messages and emails from the bully to their target (1).
- Stay offline for a while: If the cyberbully cannot find you online, they cannot bully you. Staying offline for a while will create distance between the bully and the person being targeted. This can have a positive result, that the bullying will die down after a while (1).
- Never delete any evidence of cyberbullying: All evidence of bullying must be saved – it can be used to report cyberbullying at school or workplaces.
- Report all forms of cyberbullying to the correct authorities: In severe cases of cyberbullying it is advisable to report it to online service providers, social media hosts, webmasters, schools and places of work. If it gets really out of hand it can also be reported to the federal police (1).
While the strategies above are designed to help ward off the cyberbullying, there are also things you can do to support your child in this extremely stressful situation, such as:
- Praise your child for coming to you and telling you about the cyberbullying;
- Do not be angry at your child, remember he did nothing wrong, he is the target of a cyberbully.
- Do not respond to the bully, as it will just feed the bully and there is a risk that the bullying will increase.
- Inform the child’s school about the bullying taking place.
- Make sure that all the content is saved and stored as it may be needed as evidence in the future.
- Make use of the report button provided on most social media platforms.
- Get your child new online accounts and a new mobile number.
- If it does not stop, and the child is still victimised, report the cyberbullying to the police (3).
What if My Child is the Cyberbully?
It can also happen that a parent can be on the opposite side when it comes to cyberbullying, discovering that their own child is the perpetrator. Here are some steps to help you as a parent to cope with this information, and to help your child to stop bullying.
- It is of great importance that you stay calm, when you hear the news that your child is a bully.
- Listen to what the person/s are saying about your child.
- Assure the persons that you will take it seriously, and do everything possible to stop this behaviour in your child.
- Give yourself time to process the information. Wait till you are calm before you discuss the matter with your child.
- Once you are feeling more calm, ask your child to explain what happened. Get his perspective on the situation.
- With all the facts in hand, see if there is a pattern.
- Make sure your child knows that bullying is wrong, and that this behaviour must stop immediately.
- By discussing the issue with your child, you can determine if your child is upset, jealous, being peer pressured to bully, or a victim of bullying himself.
- Act to solve the issue.
- Take the bullying incident seriously.
- Support the school or club’s policy regarding bullying.
- Stay in regular contact with your child’s teachers.
- Try to identify and gain understanding as to what might have driven your child to act this way (2).
If your child is experiencing pressure, performance anxiety or stress at school make an appointment with a counsellor to help your child cope with these issues. Sometimes if a child is under stress, it can drive him to become a bully to take the pressure and focus off himself.
Cyberbullying is a reality and can be even more distressing than normal bullying, because now the bully can have access to his target 24/7 and not just during times when they are together at school or work.
If you or your child are a victim of bullying it is advisable to have sessions with a counsellor to discuss the impact of the bullying, and get strategies on how to move on – especially if you or your child is suffering from anxiety, depression, or stress as a result. Bullying is never acceptable, and no one asked to be bullied or did anything wrong to become a target of bullying. Speak up about bullying, because bullying is not ok.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
- Laugeson, E. A. (2013). The science of making friends: Helping socially challenged teens and young adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Lodge, J. 2014, Helping your child stop bullying; a guide for parents. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/helping-your-child-stop-bullying-guide-parents
- Mclean, S. 2013, Cyberbullying, http://www.education.vic.gov.au/Documents/about/programs/bullystoppers/smcyberbullying.pdf