Online Bullying

“Be more open to young people, so we can talk about what happens, and not bottle everything up,” 15 year old.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying, or online bullying, is when someone uses the internet to bully someone else. The Cambridge dictionary defines cyberbullying as, ‘Someone who uses the internet to harm or frighten another person, especially by sending them unpleasant messages.'

Childnet has also written cyberbullying guidance for schools. You might find it helpful to read the, ‘Understanding cyberbullying,’ and, ‘What young people have told us,' sections.

What is different about cyberbullying?

  1. Cyberbullying often happens on personal devices that young people have continuous access to, e.g. a phone. This means it can happen anywhere and at any time, so it can feel like it’s hard to escape. 

  2. It can be difficult to know who the bully is, and it might be someone unknown.

  3. It can be hard to control the spread of messages, images, and videos sent online which means many people could see them in a short period of time.

  4. It can be difficult to understand behaviour online and some instances may be interpreted as cyberbullying when in fact the intention wasn’t to upset or harm someone. For example, a comment made as a joke or ‘banter’ may still deeply upset and offend someone.

  5. Online bullying can leave a trail of evidence which can be helpful when dealing with the incident and reporting it.

Types of cyberbullying

  • Messages Open or Close

    Sending messages aiming to upset, abuse or humiliate someone. 

  • Comments Open or Close

    Writing remarks under someone else’s post, which others can also see.

  • Tagging someone Open or Close

    Linking someone’s profile to a status, or embarrassing photo or video.  

  • Memes Open or Close

    Identifying someone with a photo and/or with a caption, which is meant humorous but aims to humiliate others.

  • Images Open or Close

    Putting an image online of someone without their consent, or editing an image of someone. This includes nude images.

  • In-direct Open or Close

    Negative comments to a group, where a name isn’t mentioned. However it is obvious to all who is being talked about. E.g., ‘You know whose dress is disgusting…’  

  • Exclusion Open or Close

    Deliberately leaving someone out of an online group, or chat.

  • Outing Open or Close

    Revealing sensitive or personal information about someone online, without their consent. 

  • Harassment Open or Close

    Putting aggressive pressure on someone or intimidating them. Take a look at our key topic on online sexual harassment for more information on this particular area of harassment.  

  • Impersonation Open or Close

    Pretending to be someone with a view to belittling or humiliating them.  

  • Voting Open or Close

    Setting up, or contributing to, an abusive poll about someone. 

If my child is being cyberbullied how might they be feeling?

  • Overwhelmed
  • Powerless
  • Worried
  • Scared
  • Embarrassed
  • Upset
  • Physically unwell
  • Angry
  • Confused

How do I know if my child is being bullied online?

There are no conclusive signs which will tell you if your child is being bullied online. Whilst some children and young people might show obvious signs of worry or upset, these could relate to a range of issues and others might hide it altogether.

However, look out for: 

  • Emotional anger
  • Changes in mood
  • Problems sleeping and eating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Self-harm
  • Withdrawal from online activities
  • Sudden changes in behaviour
  • Bullying others

What are the potential effects of cyberbullying?

Being the victim of cyberbullying can be very upsetting and distressing for any child or young person. Cyberbullying effects everyone in different ways and may have an impact on them later in life.

Some effects might be:

  • Mental health problems like depression and anxiety
  • Stress
  • Self-harm
  • Low self-esteem
  • In some cases cyberbullying can lead to suicidal thoughts, and attempts by young people to take their own life.

What should I do if my child is bullying others online?

  1. Establish the facts of what has happened. Sit down and have a conversation with your child. Talk about the reasons that led them to behave in such a way. Has there been a misunderstanding? Did your child feel they could act differently because they were behind a screen? Are others involved? Are they trying to justify their actions by saying it was a joke or they didn’t mean it?
  2. It’s important your child understands that bullying offline or online is never acceptable. Help your child understand the consequences of their actions. Talk through the impact it can have on the victim as well as the consequences for them as the bully. It could mean they lose friends, or get into trouble with their school and the police.
  3. Discuss how you will move forward. Remind your child of the importance of being a good friend and using technology responsibly. Help them develop empathy for others as well has having respect for themselves. You might choose to put restrictions on their tech - such as monitoring their use until a time when they can show they can be more responsible.    

If your child is aged 3-11, take a look at our, ‘What makes a good online friend?’ page together. It looks at friendship, what happens when things go wrong, and saying sorry.

Click below to find tailored advice on cyberbullying, to support children of different ages.