November 13th marks the start of Anti-Bullying Week. When you were growing up bullying was restricted to real-life situations, but cyberbullying can extend the physical bullying at school into your child’s bedroom if they use the internet without being aware of its dangers.

The theme for this week is 'All different, All equal,' which aims to give children and young people the chance to understand what makes them unique, so every child feels include and valued.

[Read more: How to protect your child online with Internet Matters]

Internet Matters, a not for profit organisation dedicated to helping keep children safe online is supporting Anti-Bullying Week. Internet Matters has advice specifically designed for parents to learn about a range of online issues including cyberbullying. Visit the site for practical tips and access to other organisations that can help your child if they are being cyberbullied.

What does cyberbullying mean?

Cyberbullying is a type of online bullying that occurs on social networks, chat rooms, emails, messaging apps or on forums. It can be private, or public so that other people can see it and potentially join in. 

According to ChildLine there has been an 87% rise in cyberbullying between 2012 and 2013. Types of cyberbullying include:

  • Posting private pictures online without permission
  • Making offensive or threating comments about someone on social networks
  • Excluding  someone from online games
  • Sending abusive or threatening text messages

The perpetrators can be known to the victim, but very often they hide behind the anonymity the internet provides.

[Read more: BT Parental Controls - the easy way to stay safe online]

How does cyberbullying differ to real-world bullying?

Bullying happens in all spheres of children’s lives: in the real world, such as the playground, park, youth club and street, but also in the virtual world of social networks, internet chat rooms and online gaming.

The main difference is that cyberbullying is hard to get away from, it’s something that can take place in the victim’s home – in their bedroom, front room or wherever they go online.

Although your child might not be in physical danger, they are vulnerable to emotional damage.

Very often cyberbullies are people the child knows, they might go to the same school or live nearby, but they can also be strangers. Many cyberbullies hide behind fake social media profiles, which makes them much harder to trace, and the cloak can make people say things they would never say in real life.

Two out of three secondary school-aged pupils agree that it is easier to say something hurtful online than in real life.**

Cyberbullying can reach a large audience. A post on Facebook (for example) can be seen by all the friends of both participants, and (depending on privacy settings) the general public, and be easily shared. This can be incredibly embarrassing for the victim.

How can I tell if my child is being cyberbullied?

According to online safety organisation Internet Matters, children who are being cyberbullied don’t always tell their parents.

The signs of cyberbullying are similar to that of real-life bullying, along with a change in attitude towards technology. Signs to look for include:

  • Avoiding school or going out with friends Unwillingness to use a computer/tablet
  • Nervousness when receiving a text message or email
  • Unhappiness or negative behaviour after using a computer/tablet
  • Becoming withdrawn

Talking to your child about cyberbullying

  • As a parent, one of the most important things you can do to help your child deal with cyberbullying is to talk about it.
  • Your child might find it difficult to talk – they might be embarrassed or worry what you’ll think of them and it might be hard for you to hear what they say.
  • Try to listen calmly, without getting angry and interrupting. Let them know it’s not their fault.
  • Ask honest questions about what they’ve been doing online and the messages they’ve had.
  • Don’t judge them. Let them know you are there to help and they aren’t alone.
  • Don’t contact the bully or anyone else involved.

[Read more: 10 apps kids are talking about every parent needs to know]

What can I do if my child is being cyberbullied?

Tell your child not to reply: It might be tricky, but very often the bully is looking for a response. It makes he or she feel powerful and they may continue bullying.

Block the perpetrators so they can’t continue to bully: The method for doing this varies slightly between social networks, so visit online help pages to find out. If they play games online you may need to set restrictions.

Keep the evidence: Take screenshots of any messages and photographs. Print out emails and save texts. Take a note of any phone numbers or email addresses used.

Visit your child’s school and talk to their teachers: They need to be aware that it is happening and should be able to help.

Report it: If the bullying is happening over a social network, report it. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all have policies in place.

Don’t take away your child’s gadgets: It’s tempting, but many children don’t report it is because they are worried their phones, tablets or laptops will be taken away. Instead regulate their use and try to encourage them to use them in the same room as you.

*Survey of 2,000 parents with children aged 9-16 by Ginger Research on behalf of Internet Matters – May 2017 
**Tech Knowledge: How children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. p.31

For a comprehensive and easy to use resource of the most up-to-date information for keeping your child safe online BT recommends you go to internetmatters.org.