If you grew up in an era before the internet began to play such a crucial role in people’s everyday lives, you may think of bullying as something that merely happens on the playground. Unfortunately, bullying in today’s hyper-connected world has taken on proportions that many parents simply can’t comprehend.

Aggression, threats and hostile behaviour are taken to a whole new level when they occur online. Anonymity allows bullies to be much more vicious. Bullying via a child’s online social network can be broad and devastating in a way that a one-on-one interaction never can. There are implications for loss of privacy, humiliation and social exclusion that make cyberbullying a very real and formidable challenge, especially for teens who often do not have the emotional maturity to process it.

Parents have the power to reduce the risk of their children or teens falling prey to abusive online behaviour but are often the most clueless when it comes to new technology. The key to tackling cyberbullying is awareness and a willingness to speak out about it.

Prevention is key

Parents cannot afford to allow their children access to Internet technology without also giving them the tools to use it responsibly. Be aware of what social networks your child is on and make sure their use is age appropriate. In their quest for self-identity and exploration, teens may make some ill-advised decisions. Be frank about the dangers of sharing personal information and images. Minimise the chance that your child will be exposed to unscrupulous people online or unsuitable peers.

One of the best defences against bullying is a stable self-esteem, so encourage your child to stand their ground and be proud of themselves. Teens especially are negotiating their public personas and will need the constant message that they are accepted and loved, whether or not they are the victims of anonymous bullies.

Managing bullying online

Once cyberbullying has already begun, it can be a very painful and difficult problem for anyone. Encourage your child to talk about it, as cyberbullying can be an isolating experience. Cyberbullying can often be a crash course in dealing with difficult people – try to instill in your child the fact that they only reduce themselves by responding in anger to bullies. Try to promote healthy ways of relieving stress and disengaging from pointless interactions. In most cases, a brush with a cyber bully can be a good opportunity to discuss values and build character.

Bullying is often allowed to continue because people are quiet and complacent about it, so be vocal about bullying then you encounter it. It pays to discuss this issue with your child’s school. If they don’t have a cyberbullying program in place, encourage them to make one. What is often eroded with cyber bullying is the feeling of being connected to a safe and supportive social system. Counteract the effects of cyberbullying by promoting more discussion and supporting victims at home, at school and in the community in general.

Cyberbullying concerns everyone

The Internet can be a vicious place. However, don’t underestimate the role that real-world communities and groups can play in reducing online aggression. In addition to teaching kids how to be strong in the face of online attacks, we can also turn to our own online behaviour. Encourage fair and respectful discussion online, and don’t engage with content produced by faceless bullies.

Knowing how to navigate the Internet is a skill that every child in the modern world should have; likewise being a conscientious user of online platforms is a lesson in itself and a step towards a more respectful and open online environment.

What to keep in mind if your child is being cyber bullied

  1. Believe what your child tells you and take it seriously, even if it doesn’t seem to be a big deal
  2. Alert the school and involve them in the discussion
  3. Take the time to educate your child on safe Internet use, standing up to bullies and retaining feelings of worth in the face of bullying behaviour.
  4. For children under 18, monitor Internet and mobile phone use and become informed about what they are using and how – you cannot be an ally against cyber bullying if you don’t clearly understand it.

If you are looking for a counsellor or therapist in your local area, check out our directory of counsellors, therapists and psychologists that can speak with you and your child regarding bullying and other concerns.