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How to help someone deal with cyberbullying

Parents, carers, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles and friends can all help children and young people who have been targeted by cyberbullying.

Support that is non-judgemental and focuses on their experience and what they are feeling is the most useful. You can make a huge difference by just being there for them.

On this page: 

About cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is when someone uses the internet to be mean to a child or young person under 18 so they feel bad or upset. It can happen on a social media site, game, app, or any other online or electronic service or platform. It can include: posts, comments, texts, messages, chats, livestreams, memes, images, videos and emails.

These are some examples of ways the internet can be used to make someone feel bad or upset:

  • Sending hurtful messages about them.
  • Sharing embarrassing photos or videos of them.
  • Spreading nasty online gossip about them.
  • Leaving them out online. 
  • Creating fake accounts in their name.
  • Tricking them into believing you are someone else. 

For most children and young people, online life is a key part of their identity and how they interact socially.

So cyberbullying can be very harmful, making them feel a range of emotions from fear to anxiety, anger and a sense of hopelessness. They may suffer trauma and ongoing depression.

Cyberbullying content can be reported to the online or electronic service or platform that was used to send, post or share it. This is usually the fastest way to get it removed. 

If the service or platform does not help, and the cyberbullying content is seriously harmful, eSafety can help to have it removed. For eSafety to investigate, the child or young person must live in Australia, and the type of cyberbullying must meet a legal ‘threshold’. This means it must be likely to harm their physical or mental health because it is seriously threatening, seriously intimidating, seriously harassing or seriously humiliating. 

 

A parent or guardian can report serious cyberbullying to eSafety even without the consent of their child, if they are able to collect the evidence required.

Note: A young person who has recently turned 18 can report cyberbullying to eSafety, if they do it soon after finding out the harmful content was posted or shared. People who are 18 or older may be able to report an adult cyber abuse complaint.

Signs to watch for

Children and young people may not always tell an adult about cyberbullying. This may be because they fear their parent or carer will overreact and make the situation worse, or stop them using their devices or the internet. Or it may be because they feel ashamed, especially if they have also been involved in bullying others online.

Some signs that could mean they are being cyberbullied: 

  • being upset after using the internet or devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops
  • appearing sad, lonely, angry, worried or upset more than usual
  • feeling or looking sick or tired
  • unexpected changes in friendship groups
  • not wanting to be around people, even friends
  • avoiding school, out of school care, clubs or social activities
  • not doing as well as usual at school
  • changes in personality, such as being more withdrawn or anxious
  • changes in sleep patterns, eating or energy levels
  • becoming secretive about their mobile phone use or what they are doing online.

What you can do

  • If they don’t raise it with you, let them know you have noticed they are feeling or behaving differently and you would like to help – and that you won’t be angry with them or ban them from their devices (banning can make them more lonely, isolated and rejected).
  • Tell them they don’t need to face difficult issues on their own and that it’s OK to talk to someone instead of you – make sure they have contact details for support services such as Kids Helpline and Headspace. 
  • Listen without judging when they do talk – ask them how they feel and let them know you can understand why what they are going through is upsetting.
  • Let them know there are ways to deal with cyberbullying – you could show them eSafety’s pages about reporting cyberbullying, or the ones written specially for kids aged 5-8, kids aged 8-12 or young people (13+), as a way to start discussing what to do.
  • Help them follow the steps for reporting harmful content to the online or electronic service or platform used to send, post or share it. Reporting links for most sites, games and apps can be found in The eSafety Guide. If the cyberbullying is really serious and the service or platform does not remove the harmful content, help them to report it to eSafety.
  • Help them to update the settings on their devices and accounts so they can control the people who can contact them or see what they are doing. They can also use their settings to ignore, hide or mute upsetting posts and comments – you can find helpful links in The eSafety Guide.
  • If they are still struggling, encourage them to speak with a counsellor or even a doctor.

Resources you can use

Audio

Welcome to eSafety’s presentation for parents and carers about cyberbullying and online drama. 

Hi, I’m Deb. I’m one of the team of people at eSafety who research and write online safety advice. 

I’m also a parent, so I know how challenging it can be trying to work out the best way to protect your kids. 

And these days, one of the big worries is that they could be hurt by online bullying, which also known as cyberbullying, or sometimes called ‘online drama’ by young people.

In fact, in one of our surveys, only 46% of parents and carers told eSafety they were confident they could deal with cyberbullying if it happened to their child. And that’s exactly why eSafety is here.

We’re a Federal Government agency that helps Australians have safe, positive experiences online. We also investigate and help resolve serious online abuse, including cyberbullying.

Every year hundreds of thousands of parents, carers and young people turn to us for support and advice, and resources.

In this video I’ll share our advice for helping your child deal with cyberbullying, but also some tips for navigating online friendships to help them prevent issues in the first place.

Now, being online should be a great way to learn and socialise, to access services and just to have fun. But lots of young Australians struggle with online bullying.

In fact, one in five young people, aged 8 to 17, told us they’ve experienced things like being picked on, humiliated, threatened or excluded online. These are all types of cyberbullying.

It mainly tends to happen on social media and in online games or apps where a chat function allows people to talk with each other or send messages.

At eSafety, we’ve seen how negative experiences online can make young people feel anxious, sad and alone.

And because these days what happens online is a key part of real life and very public, cyberbullying can impact on their identity and how they feel about themselves causing long-term damage to their confidence and self-esteem.

That can be devastating.

So what can you do about it as a parent or carer?

Well, as a lot of us know, it can be hard to figure out if your child’s experiencing a problem, let alone if they need support for it.

Keep in mind that some young people have told us they don’t report cyberbullying and other types of online abuse because they feel embarrassed, or they fear the other person will retaliate or hit back, or they simply don’t think anything will change.

So you may not be able to tell for sure if your child is being cyberbullied, but there are some signs you can look for.

Maybe they’re getting upset after using their phone or being on the internet. That could be because they’ve just been harassed online.

Maybe they’ve become more private when they’re using their phone or computer. They could be avoiding talking about what’s happening online or only using their devices where you can’t see or hear them, because they’re worried you’ll ban them from the internet if you find out they’re being cyberbullied.

And here’s an important tip: Banning them is not something we recommend, because it can make things even harder for them socially.

Another sign to look out for is avoiding friends or making excuses not to go to school, which could be because the conflict is with a friend or classmate and it’s happening both online and offline.

If you notice any of these signs, start by talking with your child about what might be going on.

Let them know you’re there to help, not to blame them or to punish them. Then actually help them or encourage them to report the abuse to the site or app where it’s happening.

If the cyberbullying gets really serious and the site or app doesn’t help, that’s where it can be reported it to eSafety.

Then we can step in to deal with the company directly and negotiate to have any abusive content that’s still online removed, so people don’t keep seeing it.

To explain a bit further, here’s a real-life story about eSafety helping a teenager who came to us because she was being badly cyberbullied. To protect her privacy, let’s call her Hanna.

Hanna had already reported the cyberbullying to the social media site where it was happening, and the site had closed the account of the person doing it, but they kept creating new accounts, which is sometimes called phoenixing.

Some of the messages even said Hanna should kill herself. So as you can imagine, she became really distressed and anxious.

When Hanna contacted eSafety for support, our cyberbullying team investigated her complaints and worked with the social media company to stop it happening.

Hanna was able to provide lots of detail, including where the cyberbullying was happening and the account names, as well as screenshots of the abusive messages, which really helped our investigation.

Eventually the device being used to create the accounts was identified and the social media company blocked that device to prevent any new abusive accounts being created. The person responsible received a formal warning from the police, and the cyberbullying stopped for good.

And I’m pleased to report that when we followed up with Hanna sometime later, she was doing really well. With the support of her parents and friends she was feeling much less stressed and the longer-term impacts of the cyberbullying were fading.

So what can you do if something similar happens to your child? Here are the steps.

First, collect any evidence and information about the cyberbullying. Taking screenshots of the abusive comments and the profiles of the people posting them is a good idea.

Next, report the bullying to the social media site or game or other app, giving them as much of that information as you can. If they don’t help, or the abuse continues, then you can make a complaint to eSafety. It’s easy – you just fill in our online form.

If your child is being really seriously harassed, threatened, humiliated or intimidated online, we can negotiate to get the abusive content removed, and help resolve the conflict.

But there are some practical ways you can help your child avoid cyberbullying in the first place, so let’s take a step back.

Just as we check in with our kids about eating healthy foods and brushing their teeth, we also need to have early conversations that help them develop good online habits.

One of those habits we should all follow is regularly checking the settings on our devices and accounts so our privacy and security are protected.

For kids, that means adjusting the settings so they’re appropriate for their age and maturity. For example, can they chat only with friends, or with strangers as well?

And don’t forget to update the settings as your child grows and how they use their devices changes, because the risks also change.

You can do this with your child at first. Then, as they become more independent, remind them to do it themselves.

There’s also a range of features on social media accounts, games and other apps that can help your child manage their online relationships. For example, many allow you to mute or hide comments.

This can be useful if your child is having a tough time with an online friend or needs a break from their opinions, but doesn’t feel it’s serious enough to unfriend or unfollow them, at least yet.

If things get worse, you can help your child take some screenshots and report the abuse to the site, then use the settings to block the other person, so they can’t make contact any more.

Many apps, such as Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Discord, have parent guides on their sites to help you use their safety and security features. And The eSafety Guide also lists the options available on most popular apps.

Another useful strategy is to help your child build the social skills that support positive online experiences.

In our recent research, 9 out of 10 teens told us they want to create positive online relationships.

So a simple tip like encouraging them to get their friend’s permission before posting a picture of them is a good way to help build respect within friendship groups.

eSafety has great self-help resources that can make it easier for your child to understand and manage online issues.

Let them know our website, esafety.gov.au, has pages developed specially for Kids if they’re in primary school and for Young People if they’re in secondary school.

The pages cover a wide range of cyberbullying issues, like the difference between ‘banter' and 'bullying’ and what your child can do if they’ve been called a bully.

You can also help your child think about how they could manage their emotions and reactions in difficult situations, by asking questions like: 

What could you do if you felt frustrated or angry about something that’s happening online?'

What could you do if you saw someone harassing one of your friends?

What could you do if you feel like someone is trying to make you look bad?

Now, talking about these things may sound easy to someone who doesn’t have kids, but we know the reality at eSafety.

A lot of parents are uncomfortable when it comes to having conversations about online safety.

We get that. It can feel like our kids know more about the latest technology than we do. It’s hard to keep up, let alone stay ahead of them!

But remember, when it comes to working out issues, you have a lot more life experience to guide you. You also have a secret weapon: esafety.gov.au

Our website has a large section for parents and carers, so there’s a heap of tips and resources just a click away.

You can also subscribe to our newsletter, which keeps you up to date with the latest research and advice. 

And you can sign up to a webinar, to learn more about the issues and how to manage them.


The main thing though is to ‘start the chat’ with your kids and keep the communication channels open.

If you get into the habit of talking about online safety as a family before your kids face any issues, they’re more likely to come to you when they feel concerned or if something does go wrong.

And when you start that chat, one of the most important things to get across is that it’s OK to ask for help early and often.

Encourage your child to do that. Talking about an issue like cyberbullying and getting help when it first happens can prevent a lot of ongoing harm and long-terms impacts.

Of course, there may be times when you’re not around or your child doesn’t feel like talking to you.

So help them identify a good person who you both trust, to go to if they ever have concerns.

It could be an older brother or sister, an aunty or uncle, or another trusted adult like a teacher or school counsellor.

It’s also a good idea to teach them how to access phone and online counselling services.

You could put the details for Kids Helpline and eHeadspace on your fridge.

And there’s support available for you too

Each state and territory has a dedicated Parentline service that offers advice and counselling.

And now to a final point. Online safety goes beyond your house and your family. It’s something we all need to work on together.

So, it would be great if you could share what you’ve learnt from this video with other parents and carers. And recommend esafety.gov.au to them! 

That’s how we can strengthen our communities and make the internet a better place for everyone.

Thanks for taking the time to watch this video. I hope you feel empowered to start the chat with your own kids, so they have safe and positive experiences online. 

But remember, if things do go wrong you’re not alone.

eSafety is here to help.

Cyberbullying and online drama

This video provides the tools to support young people to have safe and respectful online relationships and what to do if things go wrong. It’s designed for parents and carers of young people aged 11 to 18 years old.

Report cyberbullying to eSafety

If the content is seriously harmful, and the service or platform does not help, a child or young person under 18 (or an adult they have authorised to help them) can report it to eSafety using our online form.

REPORT NOW

Last updated: 09/01/2024