Advice for Parents on Cyber-Bullying

Jill Holtz

January 31, 2012

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As a parent, do you worry about your child being bullied on the Internet or via mobile phone? Webwise has some Practical Tips for Parents on Cyber-Bullying.


Ways of Bullying are Changing

Bullying is not a new phenomenon. However the ways in which it happens is changing. The ease of access to powerful communication tools such as social networking websites, video and photograph sharing sites, and internet enabled camera-phones means that, all over the world, people are saying new things in new ways to new audiences.

Individuals are sharing ideas and views on a panoramic scale. Email, instant messaging, texting, and social networking sites such as Bebo are allowing children in Ireland to connect with each other and engage with society in ways that were previously unimaginable.

Technology and Bullying

At the same time we are seeing how the anonymous, instant, and far reaching communication capabilities have brought a new dimension to child protection issues such as bullying. Technologies are being used by young people for a wide range of activities that annoy, harass, and intimidate each other. Depending on the context, these behaviours can be considered anywhere on a spectrum from relatively harmless to very damaging.

The issue is further clouded by the fact that this generation of teenagers is dealing with a massive amount of communications that don’t have the nuance of tone-of-voice or body language; two factors that play such an important role in how we interpret messages.

In the past throw away comments disappeared into the ether as soon as they were spoken, nowadays messages are persistent, almost permanent. In fact these communications are archived online and are not only visible to many but searchable. The internet gives us a window into many unknown aspects of children’s lives, things that previously happened without our knowledge.

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What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying refers to bullying which is perpetrated using the Internet or mobile phone. Cyberbullying is generally a psychological rather than a physical form of bullying but is often part of a wider pattern of ‘traditional’ bullying.

It can take the form of sending nasty, mean or threatening messages, emails, photos or video clips, silent phone calls, putting up nasty posts or pictures on a message board, website or chat room, saying hurtful things in a chat room, pretending to be someone else in a chat room or message board or text message and say hurtful things, accessing someone’s accounts to make trouble for them.

We need to be mindful that posting nasty comments on someone’s profile or uploading photographs intended to embarrass someone do not, by itself, constitute bullying. Bullying can reasonably be regarded as behaviour that is sustained or repeated over time and which characteristically involves a disparity between the power of the perpetrator and the victim.

How is cyberbullying different from traditional bullying?

  • Communication between young people is often hidden from adults. This invisibility is exaggerated online where they are increasingly communicating in ways that are unknown to adults and free from their supervision.
  • When they are online young people can hide behind the anonymity that the Internet can provide.
  • The big difference between writing nasty messages on the back of a school book and posting it on the Internet is that the messages can potentially be seen by a very wide audience almost instantly.
  • Young people posting messages on the Internet tend not to feel as responsible for own their online actions as they do in ‘real life’. They frequently don’t fear being punished for their actions.
  • This type of behaviour is often outside of the reach of schools as it often happens outside of school on home computers or via mobile phones.
  • Young people are often fearful of telling others about being bullied because they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell.
  • They are often also afraid to report incidents, as they fear that adults will take away their mobile phone, computer and/or Internet access.
  • In most cases, cyberbullies know their targets, but their victims don’t always know their cyberbullies. This can prove very isolating for the victim in group, club or school settings where they come to distrust all their peers.
  • Communications technologies have become ubiquitous. As a result, Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place and for many children, home is no longer a safe haven from bullying.

Key Advice for Parents

1. Confirm that you are dealing with bullying behaviour

There are four questions that you can use to help confirm that the behaviour you are dealing with is bullying:

  • Target – Is your child the only target or is the behaviour targeted at a group of people?
  • Duration – Has this been happening for a while?
  • Frequency – Is this behaviour part of a recurring pattern?
  • Intention – is this behaviour deliberately intended to harm your child?

2. Know your child’s internet and phone use

To be able to guide your child with regard to their internet and phone use, it is important to understand how children use these technologies. Encourage your child to show you which websites they like visiting and what they do there. Acquiring knowledge of how children use these technologies can make it easier to make the right decisions regarding your child’s net use.

3. Register as a contact on your child’s phone

By registering as an authorised contact on your child’s mobile account, you will get access to information on your child’s account and the ability to block internet access. This will give you access to the account records including; numbers called, account balances, and the services available on your child’s mobile phone. You will also have the ability to make certain changes to the account.

4. Report cyberbullying

You should get in touch with your child’s school or youth organization if the bullying involves another pupil from that school or youth group. You should also contact the service provider through its Customer Care or Report Abuse facility. If the cyberbullying is very serious and potentially criminal you should contact your local Gardaí.

5. Respond appropriately

If you are concerned that your child has received a bullying, offensive or harassing message, it is very important that you encourage them to talk to you. Responding to a negative experience by stopping their access to mobile phones or the internet might result in you being left out the loop the next time this happens.

Related : Tips on Cyber-Bullying for Young Children and Further Links on E-Safety


Has your child ever experienced any form of cyber-bullying? Do you have any tips to add? Please let us know in the comments below.

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