As parents, it can be hard to know how to respond to cyberbullying. Sometimes it’s an extension of what is happening at school or in other offline spaces. When translated to the online world it can take many forms, such as abusive messages, nasty online gossip and excluding others. It can have a devastating impact on a young person, whose online life may be an important part of their social identity.
Young people may not tell their parents about it because of fear that it might make things worse for them or they may lose access to their devices and the internet. It’s important to ensure that your child has access to the right kind of support and maintains positive connections at home and through other activities and interests.
Here are some tips on how to respond:
Learning that your child is being cyberbullied can make you feel angry, hurt, scared—or, if you have your own experience with bullying, it may even trigger your trauma. It’s important to respond calmly rather than to react in a negative way. Try not to respond until you’ve had time to process your emotions. This can help you think more clearly and figure out an appropriate response.
Empathise with your child—they may be hurt, frightened and angry. Let them know that these feelings are normal. Gather information about the severity of the bullying. Does it exist in a peer group or is it more widespread? Collect any screenshots of the cyberbullying to show what’s been happening. Reassure your child that once you’ve had some time to think, you will come together again and talk through some options. If they feel like they need to talk in the meantime, let them know you are there.
Encourage your child to maintain safe and positive connections with family and friends outside of school. This is especially important when things go wrong at school and to help them through the hard times. This can be through activities and interests with other young people, like sports and dance, or through connections with the extended family. It’s really important to help your child create places in their real world where they feel safe. These things will also remind your child that they are loved and lovable.
Check in with your child from time-to-time about how they are going. Keep an eye on their eating and sleeping habits, their ability to concentrate and make decisions and their overall mood. If you notice any marked, sustained changes, seek help from a psychologist or other mental health professional. Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 and eheadspace on 1800 650 890 provide confidential advice and support.
If your child is being threatened, or if they indicate a wish to harm themselves, they need to be protected. Call the police immediately if their physical safety is at risk. If you see the marked changes in behaviour, get help. A good place to start may be your child’s school, which is likely to have a policy in place to help manage the issue. Cyberbullying can be reported to the social media service and complaints of serious cyberbullying can be reported via our online complaints form.
Help guide your child in their decision making rather than telling them what to do. Wherever possible, try to empower your child, and help them to make wise decisions for themselves. If you feel they may be struggling to open up to you, then connect them with other trusted adults or with professional support.
If your child is cyberbullying others, it’s important to help them understand the impacts of their behaviour. Early intervention can help stop harmful behaviour before it becomes habitual and entrenched. Professional support through a psychologist, Kids Helpline or eheadspace can help.
If serious cyberbullying is affecting your child and you need help having the material removed from a social media site, we can help.
Work through our cyberbullying support tool to see if you have everything you need to get started.