Online bullying among children is rife and while the potentially life-long impact on those targeted by bullies must be addressed, we cannot ignore the needs of young perpetrators either.
Action for Children recently polled 2,000 eight to 17 year olds about their internet activity and a startling one in seven told us they had bullied others online. It's shocking that this harassment is so prevalent, but equally concerning is the fear expressed by those who said they act out on others. Nearly 60 per cent of children responded that they bullied others to fit in with a certain social group, while 40 per cent said they did so to prevent being targeted themselves.
These reasons don't account for other issues that may also be present in children's lives - such as low self-esteem, stress at school or being victimised themselves by peers or adults - which can contribute to a child lashing out at peers.
The best source of help for children in these situations is usually their parents. Whether your child is being bullied or bullying others, it's important to know what's going on in their lives you so can help address the issue and any potentially larger problems behind it.
Young people increasingly socialise on digital platforms, so parents should ask about their time online just as they ask about their day at school. Keeping a comfortable, open dialogue about their activity - not just diving in when you're concerned about something - will not only keep you in touch with this part of their lives, but also encourage them to come to you if they're ever concerned about issues such as bullying or strangers contacting them. Action for Children's survey revealed that nearly 50 per cent of children did not tell anyone when they read or saw something online that made them feel uncomfortable, with one in seven saying they worried they would get in trouble if they did. This finding shows that assuring young people they can come to you is key.
Action for Children works with 300,000 children, young people, parents and carers each year and concerns about young people online come up time and time again. Many parents aren't confident about talking to their children about their worries, sometimes because it could raise awkward conversations, sometimes because they simply don't know very much about the platforms that young people use.
To keep children safe, adults must educate themselves about the online worlds that young people inhabit. A good way of doing this - and to open that comfortable, open dialogue - is to ask you children about it. Let them teach you about their activities and how they interact with peers. They are, after all, the experts.
Parents also need to ensure they help children keep themselves safe. Here are some tips our frontline workers share with parents:
• Discuss and agree parameters before your child joins a social networking site. Check the minimum age requirements.
• Consider whether a trusted adult should be added as a 'friend' and ensure your child has a 'private' profile.
• Talk about the potential dangers of sharing personal data.
• Remind your child that the same rules about bullying and stranger danger apply online as they do in public places and at school.
• Ensure your child knows how to report and block people online.
• Tell them they can talk to you about anything that upsets or worries them online - you're on their side.
There's no way to stay on top of all your child's activity online - access at school and friends' houses, as well as tablets and smartphones mean they are often unpoliced in the digital world. But with just a little communication, and letting children show you their expertise, parents can help children keep themselves safe online. Who knows? It might be a lot of fun.