Expert Advice

Cyber Bullying: How to spot the signs of online bullying

Cyber bullying has dominated headlines recently – but would you know if your child had fallen victim?

By Lorna Gray

Bullying has always been a traumatic experience, one many of us experienced through school and even in the workforce as adults, but cyber bullyingis a whole new world for most parents. Rather than jibes confined to the schoolyard, the birth of the smartphone and social networks means your child could now be carrying around a bully in their pocket, never granted a reprieve or escape from vile harassment. But could you spot the common signs of cyber bullying?

Suggestions to just 'turn off the computer and walk away' aren't enough anymore. It's become so endemic in our society, this generation of's teens are the most depressed in history. And recent tragic cases of youth suicide are stark reminders of the devastating repercussions.

Amy 'Dolly' Everett and Libby Bell tragically took their own lives after cyber bullying.
Amy 'Dolly' Everett and Libby Bell tragically took their own lives after cyber bullying.

Most recently, the heartbreaking deaths of Dolly Everett, 14, and Libby Bell, 13, rocked us to the core.

Such inconceivable tragedy has caused parents everywhere to question: Would I know if my child was being cyber bullied?

Child Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Melbourne and Geelong's Hopscotch and Harmony Psychology practice, Jessica Cleary, spoke to The Weekly to share potential markers your child is being bullied online.

1. Behavioural change

"Probably the most obvious sign your child is being bullied is a change in their behaviour," explains Jessica. "If your usually easy-going child is irritable, snappy or withdrawn, this could be more than the usual hormonal angst.

"Sometimes a change can be quite subtle so the main thing I advise is to stay completely tuned in. We're often so busy getting lunches ready, getting the kids to school, getting to work on time, we can miss subtle changes. Try to stay in control of your surroundings amid the daily rush.

"Creating an environment which welcomes open communication is key. Instead of asking them 'How was your day?', try 'What is something good that happened today', and then 'Did anything happen that upset you today?'. More specific questions with lots of time for them to answer are a great way to encourage openness and gives parents the best opportunity to identify when something is not OK."

2. Being nervous around phone/computer

"If your child is quickly turning their computer off or putting their phone away when you enter the room, this could be a sign they don't want you to see what's happening on there," says Jessica.

"Again, this could be a subtle movement, easily overlooked. Of course, it's typical to get a huffy response if you ask what they're doing so open dialogue a bit later with them, showing curiosity instead of being accusatory. Try saying: "Hey, I noticed you seemed a bit twitchy on the computer/your phone earlier. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

Jessica says some children who are cyber bullied will avoid phones and computers altogether.

3. Resisting school

"If tummy aches and headaches are becoming all too common, you may have a problem," Jessica says.

"You should be questioning the reason why they don't want to go to school immediately. It can be extremely hard to talk to your children, particularly when they're pre-teens. They're often much more connected to their peer group than anyone else – so no longer wanting to go to school to see their friends is troubling."

4. Decreased or increased appetite/trouble sleeping

"It goes without saying that each one of these factors are worrying in their own right. Again, it's a case of really tuning in - trying to pick up on cues. If any (or all) of these things are happening, you should seek professional help."

Self-harm/depression and/or anxiety

"If you think your child could be depressed, anxious or you suspect they're self-harming, you should contact a medical professional immediately."

You can also contact Lifeline (lifeline.org.au) 24/7 on 1311 14, the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 or visit Headspace at (headspace.org.au).

read more from