Parents urged to watch out for signs of cyberbullying

As Term 3 gets underway, parents are urged to be alert to changes in their children’s behaviour that might suggest they are a target of cyberbullying.

eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said cyberbullying complaints to eSafety typically escalate during school term and often play out on platforms popular with young people, like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.

“eSafety received 875 cyberbullying reports concerning young people aged under 18 years in the first half of this year, an 80% increase compared to the first six months of 2021,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“While we’re pleased that more and more young people feel confident to seek help and advice from eSafety, this increase reinforces the need for parents and carers to be actively involved in children’s online lives to help protect them.”

eSafety is concerned about a spate of social media challenges in schools being used to shame or humiliate others, including ‘Guess Who’, ‘Someone Who’ and ‘Smash or Pass’. While many young people participate in these challenges in good humour and without intentional malice, some may use them as an opportunity to extend conflict happening in the playground. 

“We know that certain online challenges can lead to tragic physical harm, but they can also be damaging psychologically when specific children are targeted,” she said.

Serious cyberbullying material should be reported to the platform first; if the material isn’t removed, eSafety can help get it taken down quickly.

As more schools deal with the impact of cyberbullying, eSafety is also rolling out additional training for school leaders and counsellors over the coming term on how to deal with critical online safety incidents. 

“I encourage parents and carers to be as engaged in your child’s online relationships and engagement as you are their schoolyard friendships and activities,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“The online and offline worlds tend to be blurred for young people and we continue to see these environments becoming inextricably intertwined. As parents, we may compartmentalise our experiences online and in the real world, but these online dynamics can have very real implications for children and teens.

“Be sensitive to any changes in your child’s behaviour that might suggest they’re struggling, and keep reminding them that you always have their back if things go wrong online. Start the conversation and ask the questions about what your child is experiencing online, how that makes them feel, and above all else, how you can help.”

Signs that suggest a child is the target of cyberbullying include:

  • They appear sad, lonely, angry, worried or upset more than usual     
  • Unexpected changes in friendship groups or not wanting to be around people, even friends  
  • Changes in personality, becoming 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.  

“The answer to cyberbullying isn’t confiscating devices but agreeing on reasonable daily use, privacy and parental controls, and when they should come to you for help and support. The threat of ‘device denial’, shame or other forms of punishment or judgment may deter children from confiding in trusted adults when things go wrong online,” Ms Inman Grant said.

“Encourage your children to use devices in open areas of the home, rather than in the ‘privacy’ of their bedroom or bathroom. And appreciate that even though your child may not be on popular social media sites, cyberbullying can happen anywhere online, including via text, DM and private messaging services and gaming sites.”

eSafety’s cyberbullying scheme provides advice, support and assistance to remove abusive content targeting children and young people aged under 18. Find out more: esafety.gov.au/report 

For advice on how to support your child to stay safe online, visit: esafety.gov.au/parents

For psychological support at any time, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Educators can explore eSafety resources and sign up for webinars on critical online safety incidents and other issues at esafety.gov.au/educators.

For more information / arrange an interview, please contact: