Cyberbullying is becoming more common and complex for children and young people. As a concerned parent, it may be tempting to rush in to try to help. But beware! You could make the situation worse.
Online bullying can take many forms, but one of the most common is posting comments, images or videos that make someone feel bad about themselves. It can have a lasting impact on your child’s self-esteem and relationships with other people.
Defending your child by attacking the one who is responsible for the bullying behaviour is never a good idea. Don’t post critical comments about the other child, send them direct messages or confront them in person – you could also be accused of bullying yourself! Dealing with the issue publicly is likely to bring more attention to the conflict and encourage others to join in. That can lead to your child being teased about telling an adult, or result in even worse cyberbullying.
Stay calm and take some time to talk with your child about what has happened and why. This will help you work out how to end the immediate issue and prevent ongoing problems.
Discussing the conflict with the other child’s parent or carer may seem like a good idea. But even if you know them, it can be difficult to sort out issues like cyberbullying on your own. No one likes to hear their child is being mean to others, so you may get into an argument. Cyberbullying is often an extension of what’s happening in the classroom or the playground, so think about asking the school to set up a meeting with the other family.
Be careful not to make too many assumptions or accusations. Sometimes there’s more than one side to the story – the other child could even be reacting to being bullied themselves.
Remember that young people make mistakes. They need to be given the chance to understand the impact of their words or actions, and to help fix the damage. They are more likely to change their behaviour towards your child – and others – if you show empathy and compassion instead of focusing on punishment or revenge.
It’s also a good strategy to empower your child to deal with the conflict themselves, by guiding them with information and advice instead of making all the decisions for them. This gives them the skills to work out sensible solutions, in case they ever face a similar issue again.
If and when it’s time to talk to the other child’s family, the steps below may help you resolve the conflict together.
Collect evidence. Have screenshots ready of the cyberbullying content or comments, so you can show the other child’s parent or carer what you are talking about.
State your goal. It’s normal to feel angry and hurt when your child has been cyberbullied, but it's likely to be more productive to talk about the issue in terms of how to resolve the problem and move on, instead of focusing on who was to blame. The best outcome is an end to the bullying behaviours so everyone can feel safe.
Let the other parents talk. Hear them out, they may have information you don't know about. Remember, victims of cyberbullying sometimes use cyberbullying behaviours themselves in other situations and at different times. So the experience could be reversed next time around.
Work together. Try to find ‘common ground’ with the other parent – you may have a shared idea or opinion about the cyberbullying, even if you don’t agree about the details of everything that happened. This sets a good example for your children to follow.
Talk about next steps. Create a plan that states how both children will behave towards each other from now on and schedule a check-in with both families to see how things are progressing. Depending on whether the conflict has calmed down or become worse, you may need to bring in a ‘neutral’ person to help. This means someone who is not on the side of either child, who can be trusted to listen to the problem and try to work it out fairly so you can all move forward without further conflict. This person could be a teacher, a counsellor, or even a community leader.
Report to the site. You can report cyberbullying content or behaviour to the site where it happened. The eSafety Guide has reporting links for popular social media services, games and apps. If they don't help you within 48 hours you can ask eSafety for help.
Report to eSafety. eSafety’s cyberbullying team investigates and helps to resolve serious cases of harassing, humiliating, intimidating or threatening online behaviour towards children. This includes helping to remove abusive posts, comments and messages. Even if the conflict your child is experiencing is not serious enough to need investigation, the team can give you advice that may help resolve the conflict. You can contact them at esafety.gov.au/report.
Of course, if the cyberbullying includes any direct threats to your child's physical safety, it’s best to contact the police immediately by calling Triple Zero (000).