Cyberbullying: The Facts

Distressed ... Cyberbullying can make the victim feel alone and trapped.
Distressed ... Cyberbullying can make the victim feel alone and trapped. 

What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying refers to bullying that occurs through information and communication technology such as phone calls, text messages, emails, Internet chat rooms, instant messaging and social networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook.

Cyberbullying activities include leaving insulting or offensive messages on social networking sites, spreading rumours online, identity theft and the setting up of fake online accounts, sending unwanted emails, text messages or instant messages, and distributing photographic or video material via mediums such as text and online. Some cyberbullying can be of an sexual nature and can include “sexting” via SMS or distributing sexually explicit images and video online.

Cyberbullying is particularly concerning as it can happen anywhere and at any time, and so there is no safe haven from the bullying behaviour. This type of bullying can cause great distress, and have a negative impact on a child’s self esteem and self confidence.

Cyberbullying and the Law
Cyberbullying can be considered illegal depending on the content and nature of the incident, the age of those involved, the physical location of the incidents, and the state in which the cyberbullying takes place. Cyberbullying can come under several different legislative processes such as:

  • Assaults, Intimidation and Harassment at School (NSW)
  • Assault
  • Misuse of Telecommunications Service
  • Threat Offences
  • Stalking and Harassment
  • Privacy
  • Defamation
  • Accessorial Liability
  • Civil Liability

“Sexting” and the Law
“Sexting” or any distribution of sexually explicit material is considered a breach of Child Pornography legislation if the child or young person is under the age of 18, even if the images were taken with consent. Children and young people who send, receive or forward images can be charged with a sexual offence and if found guilty can be gaoled and placed on a list of registered sex offenders.

Signs to help parents recognise cyberbullying
The secretive and hidden nature of cyberbullying can make it difficult for parents to detect when it is occurring. Some children also feel ashamed when they are a victim of bullying, or may feel afraid to tell others as they believe it may make the situation worse. For this reason, parents need to look at changes in their child’s behaviour, which could give a clue that they may be being bullied. These signs may include:

  • Sudden aversion to socialising with friends
  • Unusual disinterest or avoidance of school such as tummy pains or nausea in anticipation of school, unexplained pains or increased illness and school refusal.
  • Dropping out of sports or other previously enjoyable recreational activities
  • Changes in sleep patterns - sleeping significantly more or significantly less
  • Self injurious or self harming behaviour such as unusual nail biting or skin picking, cutting or head banging.
  • Abnormal changes in mood and/or behaviour such as withdrawal, anxiety, tearfulness, clinginess, agitation or aggression.

Cyberbullying can be considered illegal depending on the content and nature of the incident, the age of those involved, the physical location of the incidents, and the state in which the cyberbullying takes place.

What parents can do
One of the most important  first steps is to educate yourself about the ways in which your child is using technology, which mediums they prefer and the way in which these mediums operate.

Be ready to embrace new sites and technologies as your children do, as the landscape of online interfacing changes quickly! Ask your child to teach you the ins and outs, and use websites such as ThinkUKnow and CyberSmart to stay up-to-date.

Armed with your knowledge, have frequent and low-key conversations with your children around the issues. Ideas for conversation topics include:

  • Internet safety
  • Pros and cons or online vs “real life” communication and interraction
  • Real vs “online” identities
  • “To tag or not to tag”
  • Stop, Think, Post/Send
  • Imagine a technology-free world!
  • Imagine a technology-only world where there is no direct contact!
  • Reflect on holidays or time-out where access to technology has been limited

Responding to cyberbullying - being there for your child
The powerful impact of feeling scared, powerless, helpless, ashamed and other emotions that can result from being cyberbullied, particularly when occurring over a long period, has the capacity for long-lasting effects on children. Ways that you can protect a child from any long-lasting negative impacts of cyber bullying include:

  • Take lots of time to hear, listen and understand your child’s story
  • Discuss internet safety and cyber bullying with the child and encourage them to tell you if they’re feeling bullied.
  • Be alert to any abnormal behaviour/mood changes - listen to your instincts if you feel your child is not quite himself or herself.
  • Stay calm while your child is telling you his/her story, and be aware of your own reactions. Wait to hear the whole story before responding.
  • Take complaints from the child seriously, do not brush them off.
  • Try to ascertain what ‘meaning’ the child takes from the bullying, for example whether they believe what the bully says about them
  • Assure the child that it is not their fault.
  • Ensure your child has a positive experience of sharing with you so that they will feel it is a safe and reliable course of action.

Strategies for young people to deal with cyberbullying

  • Tell someone – The most important step is for the child or young person to talk to someone they trust about what is happening. This may be a parent, friend, teacher or counsellor.
  • Don’t reply to bullying messages – This may make the situation worse.  By replying, the bully gets what he or she wants. Often, if the child does not reply, the bully will get bored and leave them alone.
  • Block the cyberbully – Depending on the way that the bully is communicating with the young person, it may be possible to block their messages or texts. If your child is not sure how, your phone or internet service provider can help you.
  • Change your contact details – Get a new user name for the internet, a new email account, a new mobile phone number and only give them out to your closest friends.
  • Keep your username and passwords secret – Keep your personal information private so it doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who’ll misuse it.

Responding to Significant Incidents
If a child or young person is the victim of cyberbullying of a threatening, serious or sexual nature, or if the impact on the child or young person is significantly harmful it is recommended to:

  • Document and keep records of incidents, such as printing the screen of your computer, recording the time, date and content of phone calls and saving text messages or emails.
  • Contact your service provider to discuss retrieving records, blocking or monitoring of accounts.
  • Contact and report offenders to websites. Websites usually have a code of conduct which enables them to remove offending material and block perpetrators of cyberbullying. Facebook for example writes “As a community, we place a high value on respecting each other, and take reports of harassment very seriously. We take action when private individuals are bullied or persistently contacted against their wishes.”
  • Contact your child’s school and discuss the issues. Schools usually have specific policies around bullying and cyberbullying and can assist to manage incidents.
  • Contact your local police station and arrange to meet with an officer such as a Youth Liaison Officer, bringing appropriate documentation with you.

Information provided by the Quirky Kid child psychology clinic. Find out more about Cyberbullying at the Quirky kid website.