Cyberbullying: what you need to know
Cyberbullying is when a person uses digital technology to deliberately and repeatedly harass, humiliate, embarrass, torment, threaten, pick on or intimidate another person.
Examples of cyberbullying include deliberately:
- posting or sending messages that threaten people or put people down
- leaving people out of online games or social forums
- spreading nasty rumours online about people
- setting up unkind or unpleasant fake social media accounts using real photos and details
- trolling or stalking people online
- sharing or forwarding people’s personal information
- posting insulting or embarrassing photos or videos of people
- harassing other people in virtual environments or online games.
Cyberbullying can happen at any time of the day or night, anywhere there’s internet or mobile access.
If your child has a disability, or is experiencing a mental health issue like depression or anxiety, this can make him more vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can become offline bullying – for example, bullying at school. And face-to-face bullying can become cyberbullying.
Effects of cyberbullying
Children and teenagers who experience cyberbullying can end up being bullied at school. Cyberbullying often leaves teenagers with lowered self-esteem, less interest in school and low academic achievement.
Children and teenagers might feel confused by changes in their friendships groups. They might also feel alone, lonely and isolated. Cyberbullying can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, stress and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts.
Some victims of cyberbullying feel they have no safe place.
Helping your child avoid cyberbullying
Here are some things you can do to help make cyberbullying less likely to happen to your child:
Agree on rules
Agreeing on clear rules about when your child can use her mobile phone, computer or tablet can help her avoid cyberbullying. For example, cyberbullying often happens at night through text messages and shared images. It's best if you agree to switch off all devices at night and leave them in a family area.
Talk about cyberbullying with your child
It’s a good idea to start talking about cyberbullying when your child first starts to use social media sites, or when he gets a mobile phone.
You can talk about:
- what cyberbullying looks like – for example, ‘Cyberbullying is sending mean text messages, spreading rumours on social media, ganging up on a player in an online game, or sharing an embarrassing photo with other people’
- how it might feel to be cyberbullied – for example, ‘Being cyberbullied can make you feel very upset and lonely. It can make you not want to join in activities where the cyberbully might be’
- the consequences of cyberbullying – for example, ‘People who get cyberbullied can stop doing well at school and feel depressed or anxious’.
Talk about being safe online
This might involve talking about things like:
- online friends and messaging friend lists – if your child adds someone she doesn’t really know as a ‘buddy’ or ‘friend’, it gives that person access to information about her that could be used for bullying
- not giving out passwords to friends. Some teenagers do this as a sign of trust, but a password gives other people the power to pose as your child online
- thinking before posting – if your child posts personal comments, photos or videos she might get unwanted attention or negative comments. The comments and photos can also be available online for a long time
- telling you, a teacher or another trusted adult if she’s worried about anything that’s happening online.
How cyberbullying is different from other bullying
Cyberbullying is different from other kinds of bullying, for both the person engaging in bullying and the victim.
People using bullying behaviour often act more boldly online than if they were facing their victim in person. Sending taunts remotely and anonymously makes people doing the bullying feel safer and more powerful. They can’t see their victims’ physical or emotional responses, which might otherwise have an impact on the bullying behaviour.
For people being bullied, cyberbullying is tough to deal with. Because teenagers use mobiles and the internet a lot of the time, bullying can happen 24 hours a day, not just when they’re at school. Victims of cyberbullying might not know who’s doing the bullying or when the bully will strike next. This can make teenagers feel persecuted and unsafe, even when they’re at home.
Bullying messages posted online are very hard to get rid of. These messages can be forwarded instantly and be seen by many people, instead of only the few people present in face-to-face bullying situations.