Cyberbullying: Your questions answered

Everything you wanted to know about cyberbullying, with advice on what to do and how to help if it's happening to your child.

When you were growing up bullying was restricted to real-life situations, but online bullying can happen at any time, even away from school. 

Internet Matters, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to helping keep children safe online, can help parents learn about a range of online issues including cyberbullying. We've answered some of the main questions below, along with advice on what to do if your child becomes a victim.

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 a 12% rise in cyberbullying in 2016/17 compared to the previous year. 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

Man sat on sofa with two kids using tablets

Tips to keep your child safe

1: 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.

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 take away your child’s gadgets. 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. Instead, regulate their use of technology and try to encourage them to use their devices in the same room as you.

How BT's parental controls can help keep your child safe

You can use BT's parental controls to stop your child seeing inappropriate content online, but they can also help prevent cyberbullying. For example, if your child is being sent links to age-inappropriate content as part of a bullying campaign, BT's parental controls will stop them seeing the offending web pages, saving them from seeing potentially distressing images or video.

You can set similar filters for social media, meaning they won't be exposed to inappropriate content on services like Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram.

It includes timers for online access, so after a certain amount of time your child won't be able to go online. This is designed to carve out dedicated homework time, but will also lower the risk of them being cyberbullied.

BT's parental controls can be applied to every device using your home wi-fi, be it a smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop.

*Tech Knowledge: How children use devices at school and at home, September 2015. p.31

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For advice keeping your child safe online visit Internet Matters

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