Cyberbullying is a devastating situation for all involved, especially because it can have such far-reaching effects on it’s victims (read more about the effects of cyberbullying and how you can help your child to deal with it in this article). That is why it can be difficult for a parent to accept and come to terms with finding out that their own child might be the one causing harm to another child.
We all want to believe the best of our children and our initial reaction to hearing about a potential issue might leave us in a place of disbelief or wanting to put our heads in the sand and hoping that it will just go away. However, not dealing with the bullying will only create more problems in the long run and ultimately, is not the best course of action for anyone concerned, least of all your own child.
Research has shown that a large number of children who are perceived to be bullies at school end up with a criminal record by the time they reach their early twenties. They also tend to have difficulties with relationships and in the workplace later in life, as they haven’t been able to learn the necessary life skills to compromise and negotiate effectively.
As parents, our role in working with our children to help them to learn lessons from the mistakes that they have made, is absolutely critical in allowing our children to grow and build more positive online – and offline – behaviour in the future.
Firstly, it is important that you don’t blame yourself as a parent – cyberbullying is not uncommon. In fact, it is a lot more common than most people realise and research suggests that more than 25% of all children partake in some form of cyberbullying during their school years. Rather than blaming ourselves for what has gone wrong, it is critical that we find a positive way to move forward, once the situation has been presented to us.
Signs to help you recognise that your child might be a cyberbully
- Your child has been previously involved in bullying incidents in person
- They hide their online activity from you
- They use the computer or other electronic devices frequently at all times of day and night
- Your child becomes secretive and may refuse to talk about what he or she is doing online
- You might discover that they have multiple online accounts – some of them using different names
Although, this is not definite proof that your child is a cyberbully, if you see several of these signs, this would be a good time to start communicating with your child about their online behaviour. Go with your instincts – as a parent, we usually know when something is not quite right, even if we don’t want to believe something is wrong.
Steps to take when you find out your child is a cyberbully
1. Acknowledge that there is a problem.
As a parent, it can be difficult to hear that our child is not perfect. Rather than defending your child or ignoring their behaviour, take responsibility for the issue, ask questions to find out what has happened and ask for evidence to help you with discussing the issue with your child later.
Remember that this will not be an easy conversation for the other person either, whether it is the other parent, the school or even the police. Showing a commitment to dealing with the issue is the first step to working through the problem.
2. Communicate with your child.
The main goal here is to speak to your child without blaming. At the same time, you want them to understand that their behaviour is not acceptable and to help them to take responsibility for their actions. Finding out what has caused them to be involved in the bullying can help you to start to deal with the underlying problems.
Perhaps they were being bullied themselves or got in with the wrong crowd – once you know the root of the issue, you can help them to deal with the real cause of why they are involved in bullying.
3. Inform yourself of school policies or legal issues related to cyberbullying.
Knowing the laws can help you to deal with the issues in the proper way and to know how to handle them. Work with the school and authorities to deal with the situation. It may be that you need outside help for your child, with a counsellor for example, but your first step should always be to communicate with them yourself.
Showing that you are handling the situation and willing to include others in the discussion can help later, especially if there are criminal proceedings.
4. Help your child to understand the consequences and effects of cyberbullying.
Show your child articles and stories about cyberbullying and the effect it has on it’s victims. Many children don’t realise that they might actually be breaking the law and how that might affect them later on in life.In fact, children often feel it’s not ‘real’ because it’s happening online and they take actions online that they would never do in person.
Learning more about the very real effects and consequences for both themselves and the victims can help your child to understand the issue more fully and will help them to change their actions in the future.
5. Monitor your child’s access to electronic devices and social media.
Limiting access to your child’s computers, phones and social media accounts is going to be necessary – and it’s not just about cutting off their access though. It is more important to teach them the value of acceptable online behaviour rather than cutting them off completely.
This can be done through learning together about the rules of the internet and what good internet manners looks like. This will mean gaining access to all of their social media accounts, passwords and emails and monitoring what they do online, as well as restricting their usage. Your child needs to earn back their internet privileges – and your trust – over time by showing you that he/she can be a responsible online user.
6. Saying sorry.
Whether this will be possible or not, depends on whether legal action has been taken and whether the victim would wish to receive an in-person apology from your child. A letter is an alternative form of action, however there are also other ways to have your child make retribution – this could be in the form of volunteering or contributing pocket money to anti-bullying organisations.
The main point here is that your child should understand the consequences of cyberbullying and take responsibility for their actions.
When dealing with this situation, remember that you are likely to be feeling the emotional toll of handling this situation. Please ensure you find a way to deal with this – do not ignore your emotions – speak to someone about how you are feeling, either professionally or to a friend you can trust. You will need to find a way to keep these emotions separate when dealing with your child, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t find an expression for your own emotions. Dealt with in the right way, this situation can have a positive outcome as long as you address the issues early and a calm, consistent approach.
We hope this article has been useful. Please feel free to leave a comment below.