Expert Advice

Cyber Bullying: What to do if your child is being bullied online

You're in a privileged position if your child has confided in you. Here's how to help them through it.

By Lorna Gray
Finding out your child is being cyber bullied is terrifying for a myriad of reasons. Bullying has evolved way past our own experiences, and we're the first generation of parents to deal with the often devastating impacts of social media.
Bullying now takes place over digital devices through texts, apps, or on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Children are subjected to hurtful posts and direct messages, often posted by more than one bully.
Recent tragic cases of youth suicide are stark reminders and intensify the feeling of utter helplessness associated with bullying. Most recently, the heartbreaking deaths of Dolly Everett, 14, and Libby Bell, 13, rocked us to the core. Both girls were reportedly being cyber bullied.
But if you are lucky enough that your child has confided in you about the bullying or you've managed to spot the signs of cyber bullying, there are ways you can help and reassure your child.
If you are worried for your child's safety or are concerned about their mental well-being, contact a professional immediately.
Dolly and Libby tragically took their own lives after cyber bullying.

Encourage open communication

"Count your blessings your child has managed to open up to you," says Hayley Roper, health professional and founder of kids' self-esteem workshop The Blossom Program.
"Ask questions whenever you can. The more you know, the more you can help. For instance, it may be cruel comments on a certain social network or it could be a combination of real-life and cyber bullying. Establish as much as you can."
Child Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Melbourne and Geelong's Hopscotch and Harmony Psychology practice, Jessica Cleary, suggests talking to your child about incidents of cyber bullying in the media in order to glean more information.
"Don't shy away from tragic news stories or TV shows that discuss online bullying," Jessica advises. "And then be completely direct with them – let them know bullies or trolls often wouldn't dare say these hurtful things face-to-face. It's so easy for people to hide behind screens but these taunts can cut deeper when they can be re-read on smartphones."

Take control

"Immerse yourself in the logistics," advises Hayley. "Find out everything you can about the social networks for yourself. Learn their privacy settings and how they operate - how to close down accounts or block accounts. Knowing the tools can be very beneficial. Often it's the case parents don't know what they're dealing with."
For instance, some parents have no idea Snapchat messages disappear once they've been opened. Once you're comfortable with the social networks yourself, you can implement structure and monitor their online activity.

Set boundaries

Jessica suggests putting phones away when it comes to a certain point in the evening. "A no-phones-in-the-bedroom rule could be beneficial for us parents too! If the phone is put away at a certain time each night, it becomes normal routine. You won't be worried about them being online before bed which will be disruptive to their sleep and mental well-being."
Hayley agrees there should be limitations put on how often they can use their phone/computer - but stresses this shouldn't look like a punishment. "You need to lead by example," she says. "If everyone in the household limits their online activity, it's easier to adhere to - practice what you preach."

Explore what makes them happy

It's scary that some children's lives revolve solely around school and social media.
"An extra-curricular activity could be really beneficial," suggests Jessica. "But the most important thing is being present when you're with them. i.e not worrying about other everyday stressors and therefore missing any warning signs that your child is trying to communicate. Really be present when you're talking to them."
Hayley notes you should use the age-old response to bullying by telling your child happy people don't bring each other down. "Teach resilience by explaining these bullies are not happy people. And that social media is a carefully constructed show-reel - not real life. Try to practice being happy in the now - it's much more difficult than you'd think."
If you need immediate advice, 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).

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