In the past, children were bullied in the playground at school. Now the type of bullying they face is much more difficult to identify and stop. If we want to keep our children safe from cyberbullying, we need to understand some of the dangers.
What is cyberbullying
This type of bullying involves the use of technology to threaten, target, or embarrass children. The bully has a wide audience and abusive images, messages or videos are easily shared.
Children who are being cyberbullied are exposed to it 24 hours a day and may feel that they have no escape. As long as they have access to a phone, computer, or another device, they are at risk.
How does cyberbullying happen?
Technological devices are indispensable to our children today – they use them for so many different purposes, including staying in touch with friends. Mobile phones allow the convenience for parents of staying in contact with children but they also provide an open door for bullying in the form of abusive calls, texts, video clips or emails.
A webcam used innocently for viewing friends may used to film inappropriate acts for the purpose of bullying. Social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook make cyberbullying easy – personal information is freely posted; leaving children wide open for abusive responses that can have a devastating effect.
Instant messaging helps children to have ‘real-time’ conversations with friends but it also provides an opportunity for abuse. Even participating in a chat room, forum or in online gaming provides opportunities for bullies to use intimidation.
On video hosting sites, an offensive video may be uploaded and go viral. This is what happened to Shelley, a 16-year-old who woke up one day to find that she was the star of a video taken without her knowledge after her drink was spiked at a party.
Identity theft is also possible, with profiles being created for the sole purpose of bullying. Jessie, a 15-year-old, was targeted in this way by a classmate. This girl took photos of Jessie, created a profile with all her personal information, and began making posts in her name. When Jessie found out about it sometime later, the damage was already done. She had to move to another school.
Signs that a child is being cyberbullied
Children who are being bullied often feel ashamed and embarrassed. They may not tell parents for this reason or for fear that their mobile phones or computers will be taken away. When children are being bullied they often show changes in mood.
They may show anxiety when receiving texts or become troubled or upset after using the computer. Ongoing abuse can result in depression, with changes in appetite and sleep patterns. Children may resist attending school or group gatherings. Secretiveness when using devices like mobile phones or tablets is also common.
How can parents help
As a private investigator, I have seen what can happen when parents are completely unaware of their children’s online activities. Parents need to become as familiar as possible with the types of technology and gadgets their children are using. This involves knowing about privacy and security settings and making sure they are used.
Many children go online from a very early age, especially if they have mobile phones. A parent has to exercise some control in this situation because a young child will not be aware of the consequences of some of their actions.
Parents must communicate with their children about the importance of privacy. They must be aware that they need to keep a mobile number safe and share it only with trusted friends. They need to understand that it’s not a good idea to share too much personal information online.
Children also need to be made aware that bullying, in whatever form, is never acceptable and the consequences are serious. Parents who have open communication with their children are far more likely to be told if they are being bullied. They need to encourage their children to come to them with problems of this nature.
Children also need to be told that they should not respond to the bully in any way. They should tell their parents instead.
Protecting children is not as simple as removing their digital devices. A parent’s first impulse on discovering a child is being bullied may be to take away a mobile phone. This can do more harm than good as the child will probably feel as though he or she is being punished. At the same time, this action isolates them even more from their friends.
Some concerned parents take protection too far and stop access to all devices. This makes children feel angry and persecuted. It affects open communication with them and often makes it more likely for them to rebel and go online outside of the home.
Steps to take when parents find out they are being bullied
If kids are being bullied, it is important for parents to reassure them that they are victims and are in no way to blame for what has happened. One action that can be taken is to block the bully and most devices have settings that allow this.
If parents find out that a child is being bullied, they need to report it to the appropriate authorities, whether this is the school, the police or the mobile company. These authorities will need proof. If bullying is happening through more devious methods such as the use of a fake profile, a licensed private investigator may be approached to assemble the required proof.