Dealing with cyberbullying

Greg Gebhart from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) gives practical advice for parents about helping kids avoid and deal with cyberbullying.

At a glance:

  • Cyberbullying can be devastating for kids.
  • Many game websites for younger kids allow chatting and need to be monitored by parents.
  • Kids should only make online friends and contacts with people they know in real life.
  • Keeping technology in shared living areas reduces the risk of cyberbullying.
  • Taking away your child's phone or internet access because they're being bullied can feel like punishment to them.
  • Learn how to block and report people who are bullying your child online.
  • Keep evidence of cyberbullying.


Teenage boy with mobile phone, looking sad.


What is cyberbullying and what can I do to protect my child?

Greg Gebhart
Cyberbullying is quite different to the normal traditional bullying.
Firstly, bullying is face to face and it's generally when the two people involved in the bullying are in contact with each other;
whereas with cyberbullying this could be happening on a mobile phone, it could be happening on a gaming device, it could be happening in a messaging service, it could be a comment that's posted on a wall, or it could even be a video that's put up to try and harass or annoy you.

For many young people it's really devastating to be cyberbullied because it's their social life; they're connected through so many different devices.

When the child is being cyberbullied on a post or a wall then it's publicly accessible whereas traditionally it used to be one on one, it was to your mobile phone and you were the only person that knew about it.

But now it's been broadcast and it's not just your friends but it's the entire community, including strangers that can see that cyberbullying that's happening.

Certainly sites like Tumblr, like Facebook, like MySpace, even programs like Skype, MSN Messenger, they all have a chat feature, they all have features where you can post wall comments.

With younger children there's a whole range of social networking sites that they are using – programs like Moshi Monsters , Club Penguin, Miniclip, Habbo Hotel and all those programs also have similar features, so we need to be aware with our primary children just as much as our secondary that there is the capability for children
to send inappropriate messages on all those programs.

It's really important that when you are using social networking sites really young that you actually set some clear guidelines.

So we've come across children who have 80 or 100 friends in those particular sites and as they get older those numbers will increase to the more adult type sites that children use.

We want to reduce the size of those lists so that everyone that your child is communicating with is someone that you know and trust in real life.

I think it's a difficult time for parents. They're the one that actually provide the technology, they pay for the internet access and if there are issues in the household parents need to establish what are clear guidelines for use of that technology.

We talked for a long time that computers need to be taken out of bedrooms, particularly computers with the internet on and the door closed, but I think the growing trend now is that means the mobile phone as well because we look at the smartphones that have all the features that a general laptop or computer can use now.

So getting that technology in a place where it's publicly viewable can make a pretty big difference.

To try and reduce some of the risk with cyberbullying and access to inappropriate content, filters are a great idea to put on computers.

With young people that can restrict the majority of content that is inappropriate. Parents can actually customise those, so if you would like to block a particular site in your filter you can actually add that site to be blocked from your child's list.

If you think about children who are being cyberbullied it's actually a pretty upsetting distressing experience; they've been traumatised, they've been picked on and what do we do as parents?

We actually take the technology away and in many cases we're actually punishing our child for being cyberbullied. So it's very important for parents that when they actually come across issues online that they say things to their children like, "This is not right. This shouldn't be happening. Let's find out how it's happening and let's put some steps in place to stop this from occurring" rather than take the technology away.

If you find your child is being cyberbullied, probably the first thing to do is to try and identify a way to stop that bullying occurring.

We don't want children to actually cyberbully back because we know that escalates that, and more importantly is if we want to try
and stop that very quickly, we need to actually find the reporting or block buttons.

The second most important thing is if is happening to children and it is ongoing, we need to collect evidence. So it's very important that if it does escalate we do have copies of the cyberbullying.

That means printing out emails, that means printing out pages on the internet where you may be mentioned or you have your photo, and if it did escalate further we've got physical evidence of what's actually happening to your child.

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