About one in five school-aged children are cyber bullied in any 12-month period. The effects of this type of bullying on young people today cannot be underestimated. As most houses have multiple online devices, it makes it very hard for a young person to escape the negativity when at home.
Below are some practical tips and discussion points that could be had with your children on the topic of cyber bullying.
Responding to cyber bullying
- Make sure your child is safe. If anyone is in immediate danger or risk of harm, call triple zero (000).
- Try to stay calm, and get the full story from your child. They may need to go over what happened several times. Reassure them that it's never OK to be bullied, and that they were right to speak up.
- Explain it's never a good idea to retaliate against cyber bullying.
- Collect the evidence. This might involve taking screenshots, printing out material, noting down usernames and websites, and saving texts, pictures, videos etc. Make a note of when and where the cyber bullying happened, and any witnesses.
- Report the behaviour to the social media service or site provider.
- If reporting to the site does not get a satisfactory result, consider reporting to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, who has certain powers to investigate, remove content, and offer advice and support. They will need you to provide evidence of what happened.
- If the child who did the bullying goes to the same school as your child, consider contacting the school and setting up a proper meeting to make a plan for addressing any problems in the future. Bring your documentation of what happened, and involve the staff who know the students best.
- Ask your child if they know whether the same thing is happening to others. Encourage them to support their friends and report any cyber bullying to the school if the perpetrator goes there as well.
- Work with your child to adjust their privacy settings, block other users who bully them, and have a plan for what they will do if something like this happens again.
- If necessary, connect your child with counselling to help deal with any distress they may be experiencing.
Tips on how to prevent cyber bullying
- Talk about technology with your children. It's OK if they know more than you do.
- Reach an agreement about what acceptable online behaviour looks and feels like and how they will spend time online (e.g. homework, social networking, and gaming). If you and your children have regular conversations about the online world, they'll be more likely to talk to you if they are harassed or experiencing cyber bullying or if something feels uncomfortable.
- For young children's use and safety it is appropriate to put filters in place, set security to 'high' and to keep a close eye on what they are doing online. And make sure you set agreements about how much time they can allocate to different activities online.
- Make sure passwords are changed regularly and kept private even from friends, as friends sometimes become enemies and could use their online accounts in offensive or obnoxious ways. As children become older, supervision needs will diminish as they take responsibility for their own online behaviour.
- Many children don't want talk about how to stop cyber bullying or other negative experiences because they fear their access to technology will be removed. Reassure them this won't happen. Cyber bullying is serious and not a case of 'it's just words'. Cyber-attacks have a lasting effect and can distress a child in a variety of ways.
- Like face-to-face bullying, cyber bullying is also usually a relationship problem that starts off at school but continues out of school hours, often on privately-owned devices. Even when the bullying doesn't take place in school hours it can create serious problems back at school by affecting students' feelings of safety, wellbeing and even their academic progress. Dealing with it therefore falls within a school's duty of care.