A guide to online bullying for
parents and carers.
Online bullying can have a devastating impact on young people, whose online life is a key part of their identity and how they interact socially.
Cyberbullying behaviour takes many forms, such as sending abusive messages, hurtful images or videos, nasty online gossip, excluding or humiliating others, or creating fake accounts in someone’s name to trick or humiliate them.
I am worried my child may be bullying others
It is best to deal with any bullying behaviour as soon as possible, before it gets too serious or becomes a regular pattern. Good habits start young has some useful advice.
I think my child is being bullied
Your child may not tell you if they are experiencing bullying behaviour online because of a fear it might make things worse for them or they may lose access to their devices and the internet.
Signs to watch for
- being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
- changes in personality, such as becoming more withdrawn,
anxious, sad or angry
- appearing more lonely or distressed
- unexpected changes in friendship groups
- a decline in their school work
- changes in their sleep patterns
- avoidance of school or clubs
- a decline in their physical health
- becoming secretive about their online activities and
mobile phone use
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
Try to resist immediately taking away their device
Removing your child’s phone or computer could be really unhelpful. Cutting off their online access does not teach them about online safety or help build resilience. It could alienate them from their peers, and it also removes an essential tool for them to communicate and connect with friends.
Stay calm and open — don’t panic
You want your child to feel confident that you’re not immediately going to get upset, angry or anxious if they tell you about the situation. You want them to know they can talk to you and feel heard.
The best way to do this is make sure you have an open dialogue from the beginning. Talk to them without being judgemental or angry, and make them feel like they can come to you with anything, without fear of being punished.
Listen, think, pause
Gauge the scale of the problem. Does it exist in a peer group or is it more widespread? Is it a few remarks here and there? Or is it more serious? Empathise with your child and let them know that you understand how they feel.
How badly is it affecting your child personally? If the bullying itself is not very intense, but your child seems quite seriously affected, this could be a symptom of something larger. In this case you may need to seek help, from a school counsellor, a helpline,
or an external professional.
Try not to respond immediately. Take some time to consider the best course of action. Reassure your child you are working on it and will come together again very soon to talk through some options. Let them know you are there if they feel like they need to talk in the meantime.
Act to protect your child if necessary
If your child is being threatened, or if they indicate a wish to harm themselves, you should get professional help.
Empower your child
Wherever possible, try to build your child’s confidence and help them make wise decisions for themselves, rather than telling
them what to do.
If you feel they may be struggling to open up to you, connect them with other trusted adults or with professional support.
Before you or your child block someone or delete posts or other bullying material, take screenshots and collect evidence including dates and times.
The evidence may be useful if the bullying behaviour continues and you need a record of how long it has been going on. You may also need evidence if you want to report it.
However, if the bullying material involves sexualised images, be aware that possessing or sharing such images of people under 18 may be a crime, even if you have just taken a screenshot for evidence purposes. For information about relevant laws in Australia, visit Youth Law Australia. You can also read our advice about sharing intimate images in sending nudes and sexting.
Manage contact with others
Advise your child not to retaliate or respond to bullying messages, as sometimes people say hurtful things just to get a response and it could make things worse. If they have already responded, encourage them not to respond further.
Help your child to block or unfriend the person sending the messages to limit contact with them.
Help your child change their privacy settings to restrict who can see their posts and profile page. Advice on privacy settings is available in The eSafety Guide.
Encourage your child to ask their friends whether mean content is still being posted and if so, ask them to report it.
Many social media services, games, apps and websites make it easy to report content posted by other people. Our The eSafety Guide has links to report abusive content and online safety information.
If serious cyberbullying is affecting your child and you need help to get the material removed from a social media service or other platform, we can help.
You can make a cyberbullying report to eSafety on your child’s behalf if they are under 18 years of age. It may be useful for you to read the frequently asked questions about making a report and information about how we handle cyberbullying reports
Consider seeking support from your child’s school
Your child’s school may have a policy in place to address cyberbullying and may be able to provide support, whether or not the bullying is from a student at your child’s school.
With your child’s agreement, talk to their teacher or the
Encourage positive connections and coping strategies
Try to keep your child engaged with interests like sports or dance that connect them with other young people outside school, or with activities that involve extended family. These things will also remind your child that they are loved and lovable.
Help your child identify tools they can use to work through the current situation, as well as help build resilience for any future challenges. Check out good habits start young for some tips.
Check in with your child from time-to-time about how they are feeling. Keep an eye on their eating and sleeping habits, their ability to concentrate and make decisions and their overall mood.
If you notice any changes that concern you, get help for your child through a counselling or online support service.
Depending on your child’s age
Start setting good habits with your preschooler.
It is never too early to start talking about safe and respectful behaviour online. Help your child understand that what they say or do is just as important online as it is in ‘real life’.
You will find some advice on this in good habits start young.
Encourage your child to use the same good manners and communication they would use offline, and remind them it is okay to report others who are not being nice.
Make sure they are aware of the advice about cyberbullying particularly targeted at kids.
Talk about cyberbullying before it happens and discuss strategies that you are both comfortable with, so they know what to expect if they do report concerns to you.
Encourage them to use privacy settings on social networking sites and restrict online information to viewing by friends only, and to be careful about who they accept as friends.
Recommend that they avoid responding to negative messages and actively block and report abusive people to social media services or website administrators. Encourage them to tell you, or another trusted adult, about such incidents and to take screenshots of negative messages for reporting. Hold the saved messages for them so they don’t have to view them again.
Make sure they are aware of the advice about cyberbullying particularly targeted at young people.
Counselling, information and referral service for parents and carers in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
5 to 25 year olds. All issues. Confidential phone counselling available all day, every day. Online chat available 8am to 12am EST daily.