This week is Anti-Bullying Week and we want to make sure that no child is being bullied, and if they are, that they understand where to find help. However, not every child feels comfortable coming forward to their parents about being cyberbullied. Some young children may not even fully understand what is happening to them. With access to social media becoming more widespread among primary school children, parents need to see the signs of cyberbullying early.
Cyberbullying, just like any other form of bullying, is harmful to our children. A bullied child is isolated because of their opinions, how they look or what they do. Cyberbullying adds a further dimension in that it allows bullying to be spread faster and wider. A negative comment about a person is fueled easily through likes, comments and shares. Oftentimes, these endorsements of a negative comment come from kids that the bullied child may not even know.
Because cyberbullying moves so fast and negative comments are very much the norm on social media, it is hard for parents to recognise when their child is being cyberbullied. There are warning signs to watch out for and here we will outline the three main warning signs.
Three warning signs
Watch for these three main warning signs if you are concerned that your child is being cyberbullied:
1. Behavioural changes
Watch for your child becoming more quiet and inward focussed. They may seem upset more often. In younger children you may think that the teenage years have come early as they retreat into their room.
2. Less contact with friends
Loneliness is often a consequence of bullying. The child may feel no one is on their side
and that everyone feels the same way about them as their bully does. Loss of contact
with friends is a common consequence.
3. Unusual questions
Some children ask questions that may seem odd. It could be something like "how much do I weigh?", "why are my clothes / hair / body different?" and others.
If you spot any of these changes or a combination of them, it's important to speak to your child early on. Cyberbullying through social media can spread fast. Its effect on mental health and self-esteem can be long lasting.
It can be difficult for us as parents to understand how something as small as a Facebook message can make the world come crashing down. That is why we need to educate ourselves on how each social media channel our children use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc) work and how far-reaching they can be. Most channels have helpful tips in their own help channels and your school should have advice as well. In any case, it's worth speaking to your child's school to see whether they are aware of the cyberbullying and their course of action.
Cyberbullying is closely linked to self-esteem. Children with higher self-esteem are less likely to be bullied, children who are bullied lose their self-esteem very fast. We need to talk to our kids about their self-worth and encourage them to think positively about themselves. The worth of anyone cannot be measured by the level of online friends they have and the life they portray online. Each child should know this.