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Cyberbullying: keep your child safe on computers and mobile phones

These days bullying doesn’t just happen in the playground. Cyberbullying – or bullying via digital technologies like mobile phones and computers – is a different threat to your child. It can be harder to spot and more difficult to stop than ‘traditional’ bullying, but understanding the dangers will help you keep your child safe.

What's different about cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is different to other forms of bullying because:

  • it can occur anytime, anywhere – the victim can even receive bullying messages or materials at home
  • the audience to the bullying can be large and reached very quickly and easily if messages are passed around or things are posted online
  • it can can be unintentional – people may not think about the consequences of sending messages or images 

Ways of cyberbullying

The most common ways of cyberbullying are through:

  • chat rooms, blogs and forums – although many of these are moderated, people involved in discussions can be sent abusive responses
  • text messaging – abusive and threatening texts can be sent to mobile phones
  • abusive or prank phone calls – these can be made to your child’s mobile phone
  • picture and video clip messaging – offensive images can be sent to mobile phones
  • email – new addresses can be set up in minutes and used to send offensive messages and images
  • social networking and personal websites (like Facebook or MySpace) – offensive or humiliating messages and images can be posted on these sites
  • identity theft – in many cyber environments fake profiles can be set up pretending to be someone else with the aim of bullying others
  • instant message services – quicker than email, these allow users to have 'real time' conversations, and offensive messages or content can be sent in this way
  • webcams – usually used to view each other when chatting online, children can also be sent abusive images or encouraged to act in an inappropriate way while being filmed
  • Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) – abusers can use the various forms of online software used by schools to enable staff and pupils to interact with each other to send offensive images and messages
  • video hosting sites (like YouTube) – children may find themselves the subject of films being shown or be accidentally exposed to pornographic images
  • gaming sites, consoles and virtual worlds – chatting is possible within many games, and name calling, abusive remarks and picking on particular players can occur

Protecting your child from cyberbullying

As with other types of bullying it’s important for you to listen to your child and react with sympathy. Your child should know that bullying is always wrong and that seeking help is the right thing to do. 

It’s important for them to learn to respect and look after their friends online and to think before they post or text. To keep them safe, make sure you:

  • encourage them to talk to you or another adult about anything that’s upsetting them
  • watch out for them seeming upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
  • try to understand the ways in which they are using their digital technologies
  • ask them to think about how their actions affect other users
  • suggest that they only use moderated chat rooms
  • encourage them to show you any abusive or offensive emails or messages they’ve received and keep a record of them
  • help them report any abuse to their school, the internet service provider, the website manager/moderator, the mobile phone company or the police
  • tell them never to respond to any abusive messages or calls – this is frequently what the abuser wants
  • discuss keeping their passwords safe and avoiding giving their name, email address or mobile phone number to people outside their circle of friends and family
  • change email address or telephone number if the abuse continues
  • turn on in-built internet safety features and install computer software to ensure that you only receive emails from people you have chosen and to block unwanted images
  • tell them about places where they can go for help and support like CyberMentors, ChildLine and Childnet International

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