'I can do all things with the help of God who strengthens me.' Philippians (4:13)

6. Cyberbullying

6. Cyberbullying

Cyber bullying is a form of bullying that takes place online using electronic media such as mobile phones, Facebook, TikTok etc and it can be carried out individually or by a group of people. There are varying types of bullying which can include blackmail, threats, abusive comments, spreading rumours, sharing embarrassing pictures or creating fake profiles on social media sites. With most children having access to smartphones and other devices it means that there is no escape from undesirable behaviour from other people, and it can continue to happen around the clock. Depending on the platform used the words and images are preserved online for others to see, which can also contribute to further bullying with more people joining in.

What is the law around cyberbullying? Well, it's not a crime in itself. However, the acts and the behaviour of in those incidents of online bullying can amount to offences and they would be dealt with accordingly by the police. We do have laws to assist us and to deal with cases of cyber bullying which include the Protection from Harassment Act and the Malicious Communications Act.

How can a parent or carer recognise if their child is being bullied?  There is not any one particular sign to indicate that a child is being bullied online. However, there are a number of things that as parents you can be aware of, which may indicate that they are being bullied, especially if they behaving out of character. It may just prompt you to ask them, are you OK? Changes in behaviour could be that they are appearing anxious, upset or abrupt after using their device or they are more protective and/or using it more or less than usual. Other signs could be mood changes/swings, avoiding school or social situations and generally not wanting to talk about their online activities. They may also complain of an illness and it is well evidenced that children who are being bullied do suffer with mental health issues as a result of stress and anxiety.

What can a parent or carer do? The first thing is to reassure them. The advice from the NSPCC is to let them know that you want to help them put a stop to it.  Encourage them to talk to someone that they trust and just be aware that the person might not be you. The child may be more comfortable talking to a family friend or someone from school. Reassure them make them aware that they are believed and that you will get support to help them and making assist in helping them access the relevant services.

How can a parent or carer help them to cope and manage the process? Parents and carers need to listen when they need to talk. Keep calm and try not to be judgemental towards the situation. Don't underestimate the affect that it is having on them, help them to find the coping mechanisms that they need that do not involve taking their devices away from them. This can add additional stress and anxieties plus it may be that the device or platform can be used to help rectify the situation. Remember that you need to be led by them. It is really important that they are in control of the situation where possible and that they understand their choices and they are given time to think and decide what is best for them.

If bullying is taking place on a social network site such as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat, there is a function which allows the user to fully block someone so they cannot be contacted directly, Social media sites do have policies in place to remove inappropriate material, and they can even delete a bullies account. There is also report function on all these sites. A website called Net Aware that is in partnership with the NSPCC and O2 have an A-Z of social media sites and apps and with information specifically for parents and carers and is worth checking out.

What if a parent or carer needs help? Often parents and carers are unable to resolve the situation for their child alone. It may be quite complex, sensitive or sometimes severe in some cases. It may be necessary to involve the school or club, the youth group or even the police to help address what is happening. It is perfectly understandable that when parents or carers require help and it is often needed to resolve some cases of cyberbullying. In a case where your child is subject to severe or persistent bullying, it is recommended that all emails and messages and screenshots of social media posts are stored as evidence. Although bullying is not a crime in itself, the behaviours and the actions of those who are portraying the undesirable behaviour towards the child can be. Advice to parents and carers is always - do not tell your child not to retaliate.