The World Wide Web is a remarkable facility and if used responsibly, is a source of valuable information and an indispensable tool for communication. However, it is also a haven for predators, trolls, stalkers and bullies. The web has a darker side and the sooner our kids recognise that fact and are educated in responsible online, interactive behaviour, the better.
Online bullying or cyber bullying is when one person or a few members of a social group single out one person and start denigrating them. The bully or group of bullies is always known personally to the victim and often the bullying starts offline. Cyber bullying is covert and often relational bullying, designed to humiliate and damage someone socially.
Cyber bullying is one of the most common online dangers, children and teenagers are particularly susceptible to because they tend to take their tormentor’s words to heart and resist confiding in their own parents. It’s a much more insidious and hard-to-spot, however, here are some of the ways you can spot whether your child is being cyber bullied:
1. Isolation and withdrawal
Cyber bullying may can cause a child to experience anxiety and depression which can have a serious knock on their emotional, mental health and general well-being. Is your child retreating to their room all too quickly or avoiding going to school altogether? Are once cherished activities or social interactions now being avoided? When social media turns sour, an early instinct is for them to delete their account. This a serious sign that they don’t have the emotional resources to fight back and just want to escape it. A sure sign that the cyber bullying is bad enough for them to risk loosing all their connections.
2. Loss of spark and general reluctance to interact
Recognise that when belongings are ‘lost’ or damaged this could point to physical bullying as well as cyber bullying. Are there physical injuries such as unexplained bruises or is your child afraid to go to school, being mysteriously ‘ill’ each morning, not doing as well at school or avoiding sports clubs or other external group activities. Is your child giving one-word answers like “OK” or “fine” to questions about social media activity? Further interrogation may reveal that in fact life online is not OK or fine.
3. Problems with eating or sleeping
Teenagers often stay up late into the night interacting with their peers on social media and messaging apps. Tiredness is common however, tiredness through stress is often accompanied with loss of appetite. Tiredness and being bullied also leads to aggressive/defensive behaviour. Does your child have noticeably fewer friendships or are they failing to be accepted by their peers. They may become wary and suspicious of you, their siblings and other children.
4. Appears nervous when receiving a text, instant message, or email
Is your child afraid to look at their mobile phone in your presence? As our children develop and become teenagers they often move into the romantic arena. The Internet is rife with people who want to play on their emotions and manipulate them, even among friends and acquaintances. Messaging apps have increasing importance in their lives and issues of acceptance or rejection in emotionally immature young people may be measured in their approach to receiving those messages.
5. Abruptly shutting off or walking away from the computer mid-use
Teenagers especially, have developed a real-time hierarchy through social media. For example, kids will post a photo to Facebook or Instagram and the responses they get from their friends will literally determine their social standing. If responses are negative then this will lead to denial and avoidance behaviour often demonstrated by abruptly turning away from the source of the conflict.
The biggest red flag is a withdrawal from technology. If you notice a sudden change in computer, tablet or mobile phone usage, talk to the child. They may be being cyber bullied.
It’s crucial that we keep our eyes peeled for these warning signs that something is going wrong our children’s’ world. In very serious cases cyber bullying could lead to self harming, or even suicidal thoughts. If your kids are bullied online, encourage them to take a screenshot and disengage. It’s very difficult for adolescents to do, but they fuel the fire by staying in the conversation. Often, many parents’ natural response to identifying their child as suffering from cyber bullying is to remove the technology from them – which in their eyes can be seen as punishment.
Parents and those responsible for the care of children who have a good sense of what their kids are actually doing online and are better positioned to protect their kids. It has been shown that those same kids are more likely to notify their parents if they have been the victim of inappropriate behaviour or approached by strangers.
Our job is to look for the telltale signs of cyber bullying and not to be afraid to approach our children in order to deal with these issues. They need our help and support and its vital to hold frank and open discussions about it.
To find out more about cyber bullying, especially if you are a professional responsible for child care or work with children our conference on 3rd November in Nottingham is designed to help you identify at deal with cyber bullying issuesCyber Bullying Conference