Cyberbullying is unfortunately all too common among children today. The 24 hour a day access to the internet and mobile phones means bullying is no longer confined to the playground. Cyberbullying takes different forms and can include hurtful and threatening messages, distributing humiliating photographs or videos, disclosing secrets, pretending to be someone they are not in order to befriend someone on social media or the escalation of an argument.
So what can be done?
Parents can help by talking to children and being interested in their online lives, which can help with picking up the early signs of bullying.
Teachers and parents can encourage children to report all bullying, ensuring the children know it is treated as a serious issue and will be dealt with appropriately.
Schools can run ongoing education programmes to make children aware of the issues, how to respond and report bullying and how to be good digital citizens; by being accountable for their own actions, respecting and being aware of the feelings of others.
Teaching children to stop and think before they respond to something online is a major step to help break a cycle of bullying.
Children can support each other by: listening and reassuring friends, helping friends report bullying, setting a good example by not using insults to defend a friend, helping friends block bullies on social networking sites and giving out the message that they do not tolerate cyberbullying.
If a child is being bullied advise them not to retaliate but to save the material in case it is need for investigation. Reassure the child that they are not to blame and that no one has the right to treat them like that.
Adults should understand that bullying can be very difficult for children to report as it is often associated with feelings of shame and guilt and it is useful to be aware of possible signs of cyberbullying. Unlike traditional bullying the signs of cyberbulling are not usually physical (although self harm can occur in a small number of instances) but rather emotional; such as mood swings, being withdrawn, signs of anxiety and depression, loss of confidence.
The bullying should be reported to the police if you feel the child is at risk of physical harm.
If the bullying is taking place on a website or gaming platform it should be reported to the company responsible for the sites. Some sites aimed at children have a Report or CEOP button to easily report bullying or inappropriate online behaviour.
Anonymous reporting systems have been found to be effective in encouraging reporting and these can be set up within schools or organisations to help tackle cyberbullying.