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Is your child a victim of cyberbullying?

Wednesday 14 March 2018

A young girl stands looking at her phone screen, her peers jeer at her in the background.
Cyberbullying can have a significant impact on a young person's mental health and wellbeing.

By Claire Rabaa, Senior Social Worker, Melissa Russell, Senior Psychologist and Mikaela Moore, Consumer Support Officer from Children’s Health Queensland’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service.

Cyberbullying is an unfortunate reality that too many children and young people have to contend with in today’s world.  Before social media and the internet, victims could at least escape their tormentors in their safety of their home, but that isn’t an option for generations of today. Cyberbullying is worryingly unique in that it can be persistent (there can be no relief from it), permanent (once something is posted publicly it can be difficult to remove) and hard to detect. One nasty post can spread very quickly and be seen by many, many people.

Cyberbullying can hurt someone as much as physical or verbal bullying and have a significant impact on a child’s mental health, including suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

Parents are also faced with new challenges as evolving social media platforms make it harder for parents to monitor their child’s use of social media. For example Snapchat and apps that send instant content and then disappear can have a lasting impact on a child.

It’s vital for parents to be aware of the signs and seek help immediately. Most importantly, it’s important for victims to know that’s NOT their fault, they’re not alone, and there is help available.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is intimidating or hurting someone through the use of electronic communication (such as email, chat rooms, social media, the internet and text messages) on digital devices (computers, tablets, mobile phones).  It can include:

  • sending, sharing or ‘liking’ mean, negative  or abusive text messages, posts or emails about someone
  • sharing private or personal information, images or videos about someone to cause embarrassment
  • spreading rumours or lies online
  • repeated harassment and threatening messages (cyberstalking)
  • setting up fake online profiles to hurt someone anonymously.

How do I know if my child is being bullied online?

Watch for the following signs in your child:

  • being upset after using the internet or mobile phone
  • changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry
  • appearing more lonely or distressed
  • unexpected changes in friendship groups
  • a decline in school grades
  • changed sleep patterns
  • avoiding school or clubs
  • a decline in physical health
  • secretive about online activities and mobile phone use.

A father and son sit on the front step of their house having a conversation.

What can I do if my child is being bullied online?

Talk about it

If your child shows any of the signs mentioned above, or other worrying and out-of-character behaviours, it is important to talk with them and closely monitor their online and offline behaviour. Open communication is very important, whether directly with you or with a trusted adult they may feel more comfortable opening up to. This could be an aunt/uncle, older sibling or grandparent.  Keep the focus off the situation by also encouraging your child to do something offline that they enjoy. Reassure them that you won’t block their access to the internet because they have reported a problem to you.

Tell your child’s school

If cyberbullying involves another student, talk to your child’s school, as it should have a policy in place to help manage this issue.

Collect the evidence and report the bullying

There are a number of ways to collect the right evidence and report cyberbullying:

  • Keep a record of offending emails, text messages or online conversations.
  • Ask your child to screenshot any upsetting messages or conversations.
  • Report the cyberbullying to the appropriate service provider (i.e. Facebook) using their reporting tools and ask for content to be removed.
  • Lodge a complaint about serious cyberbullying with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner via the online complaints form.

Manage contact with others

You and your child can take some simple steps to help manage the issue in the short term, including:

  • advise your child not to retaliate or respond to any messages from a bully (this material could be against them in future)
  • block or unfriend the bully to stop contact with your child
  • help your child change their privacy settings to restrict who can see their posts and profile page.

For more advice, visit www.esafety.gov.au/

What are the signs of a child or young person at risk of suicide?

Being aware of changes in your child’s normal mood and behaviour can help you to see when something might be wrong. Keep an eye out for the following:

  • Threatening to self-harm or kill themselves.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, no sense of purpose or ‘no reason for living’.
  • Expressing rage, anger or seeking revenge.
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities.
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society.
  • Dramatic changes in mood.

If you think your child may be suicidal:

The Youth Mental Health First Aid Guidelines recommend:

  • Do not leave them alone. If you can’t stay with them, find someone responsible who can.
  • Seek immediate help:
    • call your local Mental Health Crisis team (Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital Acute Response Team (07) 3068 2555)
    • call 000
    • take your child to the emergency department of your nearest hospital
    • take your child to see a GP.
  • Seek out support services and systems that have worked for you in the past such as family, friends, mental health support services or phone counselling services.


Useful websites

Bullying – Queensland Government

Office of the eSafety Commissioner

Reach Out

HeadSpace

KidsHelpLine

Snapchat Safety Centre

This article was first published on the Children's Health Queensland blog Growing Pains.

Last updated: 26 March 2018