What is Cyberbullying? How it can affect your child and how can you help

Advice on dealing with cyberbullying, including signs to spot and what to do if it's happening to your child.

When today's parents and grandparents were growing up bullying was restricted to real-life situations, but online bullying - or cyberbullying - can happen at any time, even away from school. 

We've answered some of the main questions around cyberbullying below, along with advice on what to do if your child becomes a victim. For more information we recommend Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping keep children safe online.

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

Cyberbullying includes:

  • 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

Sadly cyberbullying is on the increase. One in eight children aged 12-15 said they had been bullied on social media, nine percent through messaging apps or texts, a rise from 5% in 2017.*

[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.

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 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:

  • 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

Man sat on sofa with two kids using tablets

What should you do if you think your child is being cyberbullied?

1: 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.

2: Don’t contact the bully or anyone else involved, and tell your child not to reply. It might be tricky, but very often the bully is looking for a response. It makes him or her feel powerful and they may continue bullying.

3: 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.

4: 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.

5: 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.

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

7: Don’t stop them going online, regulate their use of technology. It’s tempting, but many children don’t report cyberbullying because they are worried their phones, tablets or laptops will be taken away as a result. This could make them feel more isolated. Instead, regulate their use of technology and try to encourage them to use their devices in the same room as you.

How BT Parental Controls can help keep your child safe

If your child is being sent links to age-inappropriate content, BT's parental controls can stop them seeing the offending web pages. For instance the Strict filter blocks content around pornography, drugs and self-harm, saving them from seeing potentially distressing images or video.

You can set similar filters blocking access to social media, meaning they won't be exposed to inappropriate content on services like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Be aware this doesn't apply to smartphone apps.

Parental controls include timers for online access, so your child won't be able to go online during certain periods of time. This is designed to carve out dedicated homework time, but useful if you want to monitor when they are using the internet.

Our parental controls work with every device that connects to your home wi-fi, be it a smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop.

*Ofcom Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes report 2018, p12

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For advice keeping your child safe online visit Internet Matters

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