Cyber bullying has become increasingly common and far too often young people fail to recognise it for what it is. The fact that they receive unacceptable comments or material through online channels, social media or via their phones somehow makes them unable to handle it or respond to it in the same way as teasing in the classroom or other more traditional forms of bullying.
As a parent the first step is to understand what cyber bullying is and the different forms it takes.
Social networking sites
Teasing or abuse can come from friends through messages or chats on accounts such as Facebook. It can also come anonymously from people who may or may not be known to them who have created fake profiles. It may take the form of mockery or abusive messages on their profile. It can happen on Twitter either through @ mentions from fake accounts or direct messages.
Abusive emails are a secretive way of targeting vulnerable young people and also make it possible for inappropriate videos, content or computer viruses to be circulated to unwitting victims.
Instant messaging (IM) and chatrooms
Instant messaging via Facebook, Blackberry Messenger (BBM) or other chat channels or chat rooms enables groups of people to join in with teasing, provocation or making an individual feel like an outsider. It can be difficult to monitor, particularly with the prevalence of mobile phones with chat channels on them.
Abusive texts, video and photo messages can take many forms, from inappropriate or explicit content (sexting) to recordings of physical attacks on people which can be used to provoke, shame or intimidate. These videos are sometimes referred to as ‘happy slapping’ or ‘blue jacking’. Sometimes compromising or embarrassing photos of individuals may be circulated without their permission.
Take any possible opportunity to talk to your child about bullying, the more knowledge they have the more they can recognise it as unacceptable.
Let them know that sending sexually explicit texts, images or videos via mobile phone, social media or email is wrong and could cause them to have a criminal record. It may seem obvious but a surprisingly high proportion of young people don’t realise that these activities are unacceptable and illegal.
Don’t be afraid of social media and technology. Learn about it, create an account for yourself if you don’t already have one and understand how it works and how it may be abused. Tell your child you are setting yourself up an account on Facebook and Twitter and invite them to help you. It can be a useful way to start a conversation about potential bullying.
Although online bullying is remote and doesn’t involve physical injury it’s important to let your child know that anyone who makes them feel bad about themselves is abusing them emotionally. Let them know that nobody has a right to do that to them.
Make sure they are careful about the personal information they share online with friends and the details that they make public on their profiles.
Encourage them to talk about their experiences online and to report any abusive emails or texts.
Remember that all bullying will cause anxiety and stress and this may show itself in many ways. Be alert to any changes in your child’s behaviour.
For more information on helping young people stay safe online contact ORA – visit www.ora-elearning.co.uk
For more help on dealing with anxiety in teenagers check out My Teenage Mind www.angelawhitlock.co.uk/myteenagemind