Firstly, confirm that it is cyber-bullying. You may come across nasty messages on your child’s phone or on their social media account and this could be an argument between friends, who have since made up. Make time every day to ‘talk about their day’ and watch for signs that something may be wrong (e.g. changes in mood and behavior).
If your child is being cyber-bullied, remain calm. Show your child that this can be dealt with in a way that does not involve online retaliation. As social media has become an extension of our children’s day to day lives, a nasty comment or text can be devastating for them. Don’t diminish their sense of devastation. Understand that by telling your child ‘don’t use that site or App anymore’ they are effectively being punished for being bullied. Moreover, not using a particular site or App, does not guarantee they will not be bullied, as your child does not need to be on a particular site or App to be targeted on it.
Do not fight back on your child’s behalf. Even though every bit of you may want to write back a smart comment or encourage your child to do the same, this will only add fuel to the fire. Furthermore, it will not teach your child how to deal with conflict situations in the future. Bullies are looking for a reaction (i.e. upset, anger, fear) and giving them one can escalate the situation
Instead encourage your child to stick up for themselves by;
1. Blocking and/or removing the person as a friend/follower. Children should also be encouraged to stand up for what is right online and block individuals they see bullying/abusing others, even if they themselves are not directly affected. If there is no audience, then there is no show;
2. Reporting the issue to the site/App/phone company etc. as applicable;
3. In some cases, approaching the person in real life (if known in the neighborhood/school etc.) can also help the child stick up for themselves. This works especially well at National School level, where the child can let the bully know that what they did/said online was not okay. This can be quite therapeutic for both target and bully, and often they remain friends afterwards. Depending on the circumstances, parents may also wish to talk to the parents of the child/children that are involved in the bullying;
4. Advise your child to take screen shots of the cyber-bullying. This will serve as evidence of what has happened and may be needed by the school or Gardaí.
Parents should link in with the school and let them know what is happening. Although cyber-bullying happens outside of school, it tends to seep into school, particularly when the children involved attend the same school. Let the principal and class teachers know what is going on, so they can monitor and/or deal with the situation from a school standpoint. In September 2013, the Department published their Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post Primary Schools, requiring all schools to have an anti-bullying policy (including cyber-bullying) within the framework of their overall code of behavior. If, as a parent, you feel the issue is not resolved by the school, you can report to the schools Board of Management. The Department of Education and Skills do not investigate complaints but can advise parents on how to proceed if necessary.
For more serious cases such as those involving persistent harassment, sexually inappropriate content and/or contact online, abuse/harassment/grooming by an adult etc. parents should contact the Gardaí.
If there is content online that is being used to bully/harass your child –for instance a fake account containing pictures/videos of your child –you will need to contact the site/App and request that that content be removed. If you are experiencing difficulty getting content removed you may wish to contact ‘The Hit Team’ a privacy consulting firm who assist individuals who have suffered from an online infringement.
As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’, so do not wait for something to happen before discussing cyber-bullying with your child. Unfortunately, there is no fool proof way to guarantee that your child will not be upset/annoyed/bullied/frightened at one point or another online. Even completely removing technology from their lives does not guarantee they will not fall prey to online bullying; as one of the more sinister things about cyber-bullying is that you do not need to be using technology to be targeted online. Nonetheless, as parents, we can help prepare our children for situations they may find themselves in online. Have regular chats with your child about their online life –what sites they are using, who they are following, what they like/dislike etc. Use examples from the media to open up discussions. Ask questions such as ‘has that ever happened to you, or a friend?’ “what would you do if that happened to you?’ Be mindful that your child can just as likely be a cyber-bully or bystander, as a victim of cyber-bullying. Discuss the various roles involved in cyber-bullying and ensure they understand the impact and consequences for all involved.