I would like to share John’s story – a 12 year old boy who comes across as confident and rather popular with friends. John was upset because his friends took a photo of him (without his knowledge) in a funny pose and posted it on Instagram. They then tagged him so everyone he knew could see it. He found this very hurtful. Just a few days earlier, these same friends treated him like he was special and a part of their ‘inner sanctum’. This blowing hot and cold is all part of the bullying cycle of abuse and John was well and truly roped into it. It had a detrimental effect on John’s self-esteem.
This reminded me of the bullying behaviour I and others faced back in our secondary school years. The dynamics around cyberbullying are very similar to that of real life bullying we faced as children. However, online bullying is more challenged because life on social media does not stop when the bell rings and children make their way back home. When I was John’s age, I could feel safe, away from the bully when not at school and the friendships I built outside school gave me the strength to face the bully at school.
John’s bullies follow him home on social media and this is a concept that people of my generation (or older) did not experience as children. Therefore, we need to develop a strong degree of empathy towards our children to try and understand the experiences they are going through when they engage with social media, which is a very important part of their lives.
Support is key and in John’s case, his school, which was meant to protect him, failed to do so. After he told a teacher about the bullying, the school’s administration chose to blame John for his difficulties. Too often, adults take the easy way out by blaming the bullied rather than tackling the bullying behaviour. This approach might work in the short term but when we do this we are failing both the bullied as well as the bully, as both have significant, albeit distinct, needs. This was certainly the case here; the school’s response exacerbated John’s negative view of himself and made him feel even more isolated.
When children suffer from any type of bullying, including over the internet, they often feel judged, alone and humiliated. In extreme cases a child can feel angry, depressed or even suicidal.
Signs a child may be a victim of cyberbullying include:
· Anxiety when they receive a text or a social media notification.
· Becoming sad, angry or unhappy while or after they use the internet.
· Not open and honest about their internet use or is secretive about it.
· Sudden change of behaviour for no apparent reason (including a drop in grades, change of mood, loss of appetite etc.)
· Refusing to attend school or specific activities.
As stated above, the best response, in my opinion, is to empathise with them and to show them that there are loved and valued. Minimising the effects of cyberbullying will not help. The cyberbullying behaviour should be challenged in a constructive way with the support of all parents involved. Our children can be both bullies and bullied so we need to keep an open dialogue with them in order to develop a relationship based on trust. The latter is the foundation of the message that ibrowsesafely is giving to parents as everything needs to be built on that positive trustworthy relationship.
Helpful tips for parents:
· Speak to your child about their online life.
· Teach your child not to participate in cyberbullying conversations.
· Tell your child not to let cyberbullying go unchallenged, even when it is not directed at them.
· Neither post their nor their friends’ personal information online.
· Teach your child to block all communication with cyberbullies.
· Explain to your child not to post anything online that they wouldn’t want their classmates to see (including via emails or apps).
· Not to post anything online when they are angry or sad.
· Always be polite when they are online.
As adults we know that, more often than not, any type of bullying is temporary and that our children will grow and learn from these experiences. However, in that moment in time, children do not have the experience or foresight to know that it will pass so they need support from the one person who they relied on all their lives, i.e. their parent. As a parent you can empower your child to cope with such difficult times and following the tips above is a step in the right direction.