We want all children to have a safe and positive experience when they go online, but sometimes a child might be sent an image, video or message without their consent that upsets or confuses them. It can be hard to know what to say or do in these types of situations and that’s completely normal.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying happens online and can take place any time or anywhere. And because kids spend so much time on their different devices, if it’s happening to them, it’s really hard to escape it.
Cyberbullying can happen in different ways but some examples might be:
- Sending unkind messages or comments.
- Sharing images or videos of someone without their permission.
- Excluding someone from a group chat or other online activity like gaming.
- Pressuring another person to say or do something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Setting up groups or accounts to encourage others to be mean to someone else.
- Some types of cyberbullying are more subtle and make it harder for parents, teachers and other adults to know when something might be upsetting a child. For example:
- Liking images or videos on another person’s account to irritate or upset them.
- Liking or re-sharing images that someone finds embarrassing.
- Continuously sending another person emojis or messages even though they’ve asked you to stop.
What are some of the signs of cyberbullying?
Being bullied can make kids feel ashamed and scared and they might not always feel comfortable asking an adult for help. Here are some of the signs you should look out for:
- Not wanting to go to school or take part in normal activities
- Getting anxious or angry if you go near their device
- Feeling withdrawn, upset or angry at home
- Problems sleeping or eating
- Having angry outbursts that seem out of character
- Spending more (or less) time online
Here’s what you should do to support your child if they ever have an upsetting experience online:
Talk to them
Having regular conversations with your child about what they like to do online and what worries them is good way to encourage them to come to you with anything that might be making them feel anxious or sad.
If your child speaks to you about a negative experience they’ve had online, try to remain calm and don’t overwhelm them with questions about what happened.
Listen to what they say and tell them you understand why they feel the way that they do.
Reassure them that it will be ok, and that you’re always there for them if they need to talk about anything.
Show them how to report or block
If your child receives a message from someone they don’t know online they should block or report them immediately.
You might also want to give them some examples about when they should do this:
If someone they don’t know tries to contact them
If they see a message that contains inappropriate language or comments that could upset another person
If you suspect it is an adult who is in contact with your child and they are behaving inappropriately then you can report this to the CEOP.
Some platforms like TikTok and Roblox let you decide who can send your child messages
Don’t take their device away
We know that it can be really distressing for a parent or carer when their child is upset, and taking away the thing that is making them feel sad might seem like the best thing to do.
But when your child has a negative experience online, it’s important that you don’t take their phone or device away them. This can make them feel like whatever has happened is their fault and it might mean they won’t always come to you when they feel upset about something that’s happened online.
Instead of taking their device or phone away, suggest they take some time away from the app they received the messages on and do another online activity they enjoy like playing a game.
Remind them to never send unkind messages back
Sometimes things might happen online, like losing a game or falling out with a friend, that make a child want to send unkind or mean comments to another person.
If your child receives a message from a friend that upsets them you should remind them to never send hurtful comments back even if they are hurt or angry. This will often make the situation worse and cause more upset for all involved. Instead tell them to take a break from the app and encourage them to do something that makes them feel happy or relaxed to calm down.
It’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings if they come to you about a falling out but try to not get too involved unless you’re concerned they’re being bullied.
Parent or carer
We know situations that make your child upset can be difficult and it’s normal to not always know what to do or say. If your child has received an upsetting message from a friend or someone they don’t know and you aren’t sure what to do next, you could call the NSPCC helpline for advice on 0808 800 5000.
If your child has been upset by a friend, try talking to their parent or getting advice from your child’s teacher.
As children get older they will face different pressures and challenges online that they might not always want to talk to you about.
Make sure they know about other places they can get support like Childline. Childline has some great articles on topics affecting young people that you should encourage them to read.
They also have a team of counsellors on hand 24 hours a day to speak with any child that might need someone to talk to. The site also has a forum for young people to discuss and share their experiences with other people their age. This can be a good way for kids to realise that they aren’t alone and other people experience the same feelings they do.