A guide to online bullying for parents and carers.
Cyberbullying of children is when someone uses online content or communication to seriously humiliate, seriously harass, seriously intimidate of seriously threaten a child or young person under the age of 18.
It can take many forms including 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.
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.
On this page:
- I think my child is being bullied
- What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
- Advice for different age groups
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- changes in personality, such as becoming more withdrawn,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.
St Brendans Primary School, Somerville.
Lola Smarelli, primary school student.
I’ve gone through cyberbullying from myself and some of my friends.
Lawrence Byrnes, primary school student.
Me and my friends have had troubles online before.
Ava Boyd, primary school student.
So my friend, she was bullied by another person and she was always really unhappy, and never really wanted to come to school.
Liam Buckley, Vice Principal.
Comparing classroom bullying and online bullying is difficult with online stuff because the burden of proof is actually on you if you’re looking to see who’s done that, because unfortunately kids share passwords and they’ve got several accounts.
Bullying in its more natural form, I suppose, which is face-to-face and physical, is easier to deal with potentially.
Children are a lot more technologically skilled than their parents and I don’t know that that necessarily increases their awareness around safety.
There’s online behaviours, but when it comes to online safety and cyber safety, we talk to the children mainly about strategies and what to do if you’re in that space.
Lawrence Byrnes, primary school student.
My teachers have taught me to always make sure a parent is monitoring what you’re doing.
Ava Boyd, primary school student.
If I was being bullied online, I’d probably talk to my parents.
Lola Smarelli, primary school student.
I’ve been taught by adults, don’t pay attention [to bullies], because they just want entertainment to upset you and to get you in trouble, so I always just block and report them.
Liam Buckley, Vice Principal.
I would always encourage teachers and parents to have those healthy conversations.
I think the conversations are vital, because you develop trust and you develop the parameters that you can grow in, particularly for a parent to say, regardless of what happens you can always come and have the conversation.
It’s about making sure the child doesn’t feel blamed and feels completely trusted and safe.
Cyberbullying case study
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.
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
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.
Don't delete the posts or abusive material straight away. Instead, start by taking screenshots and collecting evidence including dates and times.
The evidence may be useful if the 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 material involves sexualised images, be aware that possessing or sharing 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.
Report the online harm
Report the content to the relevant online service provider. Many social media services, games, apps and websites have a simple process to report content posted by other people. The eSafety Guide has more information about how to report issues to commonly used online services.
If the service provider does not take action, you or your child can report to eSafety. We will ask you to complete our online reporting form and include evidence, such as a receipt, reference or report number from the service provider.
eSafety will determine whether the abuse meets the the legal definition of what can be removed. We can then take action to get serious cyberbullying material taken down and provide advice, support and assistance.
Find out more about how to report abusive content.
Prevent further contact
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 use in-app functions to ignore, mute or block the other person.
Encourage your child to check their privacy settings and 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.
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 school counsellor.
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.
Advice for different age groups
Click on the tabs to find out how to help your child based on their age.Screen reader users: Select a button below to change content below it. You can skip to the expanded section directly by skipping to the heading.
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 our cyberbullying advice for kids.
Young people 13-17
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 our cyberbullying advice for young people.
Counselling, information and referral service for parents and carers in the Northern Territory and Queensland.
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