Cyberbullying: What You Need To Know If Your Child Is Being Bullied Online

11/10/2016 16:42

'Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me'. It's a famous adage uttered by generations of children in playgrounds across the world, dating right back to the 19th Century.

The literal sense of the phrase, that words cannot cause physical harm, might be true enough, but we'd be kidding ourselves to think that insults have never been hurtful.

This couldn't be more stark for the digital generation.

The recent tragic headlines relating to Felix Alexander, the 17-year-old who took his own life after years of being bullied online as well as on the playground, is testament to this.

Bullying has changed. Our latest campaign has used the 'sticks and stones' analogy in the context of a child, distressed and alone in his own bedroom as his phone repeatedly flashes up with messages from bullies.

It emphasises the point of how something that could have one day been left at the school gates can now follow a young person home and into the safety of their own bedroom via their smartphones, tablets or computers.

Cyberbullying can have just as much of an effect on a child as physical bullying. With this, parents' advice to their children about bullying needs to change too.

Internet Matters this month launched a new resource centre for parents on how to deal with cyberbullying, from spotting if your child has been a victim, to simple steps on what action to take.

It's a crucial time of the year. Recent data shows that the autumn term, a time when children are back at school, sees eight times as many Google searches for 'cyberbullying' compared to the summer holiday months of July and August. October is the month where the numbers peak, with double the amount of searches compared to the average month.*

A new study by Internet Matters shows three in five (62%) of parents are concerned about cyberbullying on their children - just as many as online grooming and sexting, but despite the widespread concern about the topic, 32% said they had yet to talk to their children about it.

This is understandable. Children don't often want to talk about it and can end up suffering in silence. Signs such as stopping using their smartphone suddenly, seeming nervous or jumpy when a message appears on their screen, avoiding school and socialising, and being angry, frustrated or depressed after going online could mean that your child is being bullied.

There are, however, steps you can take to help your children if they are being cyberbullied:

Talk to them - Put yourself in their shoes; what would they want you to do? Give your full emotional support and let them know they can trust you. Developing your relationship with your child is crucial in solving the problem. Be open and honest.

Ask them not to reply - Don't feed the cyberbully's ego - they are looking for a reaction so tell your child not to give it to them. It will only make them feel more powerful that your child is rising to the bait.
Keep the evidence - Make a written record of everything that's happened or take screen grabs off your child's device. The more evidence you get, the easier you can resolve the situation.

Block the bully - Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have a built-in tools to block anyone who is causing you grief online by sending you nasty messages. Remove them from their 'friends' list and block their calls and messages.

Although tempting to take their smartphones away from them, shutting down social media accounts, or stopping your children from going online may not be helpful. Be aware that this may deter them from speaking to you about any problems they have online in the future and allow them to stay in touch with their own supportive friends and family.

Lastly, don't be afraid to get help. In particular if the issue is related to school friends, report the issue to school, and remember that there are a number of helplines for both children and parents who will be able to help.

Head to for new guidance for parents around how to deal with cyberbullying.

*Google metrics data in 2015 showing total number of UK searches in English of 'cyberbullying'
**Survey of 1,500 parents by Opinion LEader on behalf of Internet Matters - September 2016