Online bullying: how to spot if your child is being affected
Think of five children you know. Unfortunately, one of them is being cyberbullied.
That's the everyday reality, according to a recent report which found 19% of 10- to 15-year-olds in the UK experience online bullying.
It's a major problem. And it's become worse since the pandemic, with everyone spending even more time online. So, what can we as parents do about the cyberbullying of our children?
At Envirofone, we specialise in providing expertly refurbished, low-cost phones. Many parents use our services to get their children and teenagers connected, so we take our responsibilities to those young people seriously.
That's why we decided to help parents navigate the complicated subject of online bullying, by collaborating with a leading authority in the field.
Meet Dr Ben-Ari
Dr Kalanit Ben-Ari is a child development expert, psychologist and family therapist. She founded The Village, an online parenting community empowered by experts. Here's the at-a-glance guide to spotting and tackling the signs of online bullying we've compiled with her help.
How to spot if your child is being bullied
Look out for changes in their usual behaviour. Online trolling hurts children by damaging their sense of safety, joy and trust in others. They may respond by:
- Seeming more anxious than usual.
- Feeling upset and being sad or angry for no reason.
- Withdrawing from the family, maybe shutting themselves away in their bedroom.
- Avoiding school or stopping seeing their friends.
- Showing an unexpected decline in their schoolwork.
- Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy.
- Having difficulty sleeping.
- Obsessing about being online, wanting to check messages all the time and showing stress when they can't.
Of course, the intensity will vary from child to child. But if you spot any changes like these, there's a strong possibility that online trolling affects that young person's self-esteem and mental health.
What are the long-term effects?
A child who has a strong connection with their family may reach out to an adult for support and guidance, but the effects can be even more devastating if they can't find emotional support at home or in school.
This can worsen the long-term consequences of being bullied, including chronic depression, substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. That's how serious things can get.
Talking to a bullied child: safe conversation is the key
Anyone who is being bullied, online or offline, tends to close off. That's why experts like Dr Ben-Ari recommend a particular approach known as "safe conversation". This means speaking to them without judgment or strong emotions, which could cause them to close off even more.
- Initiate a conversation while you're busy with another activity, such as walking or driving, so they don't need to maintain eye contact.
- Avoid blaming or shaming.
- Give them lots of time and space to talk about what's happening in their own way.
- Explore what can be done to solve the problem together.
Get the school involved
If the bullying has any connection with the school, the teachers and managers need to know about it to tackle the situation. If it has nothing to do with the school, they still need to understand why the child may be behaving differently.
Use the online privacy settings
Parents and schools also need to work together to educate children about online safety. Children will always use social media and play games online, so it's vital that they know about and use the relevant privacy settings. Above all, they need to be alert to the danger of engaging with people they don't know directly and in person.
Install parental control software and set boundaries
Many tools can help you monitor children's use of devices, put time limits on their browsing or prevent them from accessing the wrong apps and websites. Do a web search for "parental control software", and you can explore the different options and choose the most suitable one. Names to check include Netnanny, Kaspersky, Circle Home Plus, Questodio, Bark, Boomerang, Family Time and Google Family Link.
The next generation will spend a lot of time online, so let's make sure they feel safe and happy while exploring cyberspace.
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