Cyberbullying – what to look out for and what you can do

My years at intermediate school were pretty tough, to be honest. I got bullied a lot and I was left with a nickname that carried all the way through to high school. (Let’s not get into it). The thing about a nickname though, especially at that age, is that it can be pretty rough. It epitomises one of the terrible things about bullying. When the bully says something to you, it feels like, “This is how that person sees me so that must be who I am.” And at that age, that can have a really negative effect. The difference between bullying then and bullying now is that because of technology, bullying can follow your kids all the way home and through their front doors.

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A recent study by the group Sticks’n’stones of 750 young people in Otago, showed over a third of young people in New Zealand had been cyberbullied. Surveys vary, but it is clear that for a lot of young people, cyberbullying is a serious problem. Now a lot of young people, maybe most, can shrug it off. But for others, it can cause a lot of problems – it can lead to anxiety or depression. Here are a few thoughts on how you can manage cyberbullying in your home and how you can protect your kids.

1. Social media

Most teens are generally pretty good at handling all the risks, with a few exceptions. But younger children most definitely are not. Most social media accounts have an age restriction of 13, and I’d recommend you stick to that. The hard thing is when most of their friends are already on Instagram or YouTube and they’re the only one that isn’t. But as a parent, hold your ground and make sure your younger children are only on social media when they are the right age.

Most social media platforms are fun, and safe, but sadly, for many young people this is where they experience cyberbullying for the first time. One way to reduce the risk is to avoid anonymous communications, to ensure that your kids’ profiles are set to private, and that they don’t accept friend requests from strangers. Research shows that most bullying is actually done by people known to the victim, but they often hide behind aliases and anonymity.

2. Keep an eye out for symptoms

You know your kid better than anybody else. So look out for symptoms that that could indicate they’re going through some bullying – withdrawing from friends, difficulty sleeping or changes in eating habits. Generally though, you won’t know your child is being cyberbullied unless they tell you. Sadly, a lot of young people actually won’t tell their parents they’re being bullied for a couple of reasons. The first is they’re afraid that you might confront the bully and make the bullying worse. Or they’re afraid you’ll take away their phone or device off them. And often, young people will prefer to be bullied and stay connected to social media than lose their social media but not be bullied.

3. Spend time listening

It’s really important for every young person that they know they can talk to you as their parent about anything that is on their mind. And that can be challenging as the kids get older and they get into those teenage years. But if you want If you want your kids to tell you about the big things, start by listening to the small things. Don’t lecture, ask great questions and just listen.

Things to do if you discover your child is being bullied

  • Make sure they know you are on their side completely. Reassure them that you won’t be doing things they dread, like confronting the bully at the school gate.
  • Make sure they don’t respond to any online bullying. If you need to get the help of the school, phone companies, internet providers or even the police, they might be less willing to help you if it appears to be just a back-and-forth trading of insults. You might also want to keep a copy of the abuse for evidence.
  • Consider blocking somebody who is bullying your young person. Vodafone have a ‘Blacklist’ feature that can prevent certain numbers from contacting your child’s phone.
  • Bullying can be really isolating and lonely for the victim. Let your kids know they can talk to you, their teachers, their school counsellor, or if they’d like, they can also talk to someone at Youthline on 0800376633. Talking can really help.

Bullying is common, unfortunately. But we are moving away from the ‘Wild West’ stage of bullying and there are a lot of things in place to stop young people having to experience it. Many schools have policies around cyberbullying and they’re teaching good digital citizenship as well. Finally, in more serious cases, you can draw on The Harmful Digital Communications Act as well, which gives you the power to have harmful content removed from the internet.

Attend a Toolbox parenting course

Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.