What to do if your child is bullied

Two kids not talking to each other

At a glance

  • Bullying is any form of repeated behaviour that is intended to cause harm and involves a misuse of power.
  • Cyberbullying has the potential to cause severe psychological, social and mental health problems.
  • As with all forms of bullying, cyberbullying is about relationships.
  • Children who bully need to be shown positive ways to be popular.
  • If your child is bullied, encourage them to tell a trusted adult at school.

With kids' increasing access to mobile phones and the internet, bullying can happen any time – even when you think your child is tucked up safely in bed.

What is bullying and cyberbullying?

Bullying is any form of repeated behaviour that is intended to cause harm and is characterised by an imbalance of power. In traditional face-to-face bullying it can include name-calling, put-downs, threats, teasing, physical abuse or property damage. It can also include being left out, ignored or being the subject of rumours or dirty  looks, or being stalked, intimidated or manipulated. 

According to the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (which researched the attitudes and experiences towards bullying of more than 20,000 school-aged Australian children), cyberbullying is a form of ‘covert bullying', meaning it's hidden or not seen by adults. It happens when mean messages or compromising photos are passed around about a person to others using technology such as mobile phones or social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. Worryingly, this research has shown kids are more likely to bully (or be more nasty in their actions) through technology because it's easier and it can hide their identity. Other forms of covert bullying can include whispering, things done behind someone's back, excluding and blackmailing, spreading rumours and stealing friends.

Young people are learning how to behave in relationships and are influenced by the way people act around them.

Most of us think that face-to-face bullying is worse, but according to the study cyberbullying is far more insidious. It has the potential to cause severe psychological, social and mental health problems, and is more difficult for schools and parents to detect. It can also occur in the safety of a child's home.

Cyberbullying is about relationships not technology

As with all forms of bullying, cyberbullying is about relationships. If you don't feel confident with technology and your child's online world, you can still use your parenting skills to help your child be a good friend and understand how to develop good relationships.

On the other side of the issue, lead author of the bullying study, Professor Donna Cross from Edith Cowan University, says children who bully need to be shown positive ways to be popular.

She says kids who bully often have low self-esteem and are socially disconnected. They may be depressed and bully others to gain power. They may have been victims of bullying themselves and be influenced by others that model that behaviour as a way of relating to people. Children who bully are often troubled and need counselling.

It's important to remember that young people are learning how to behave in relationships and are influenced by the way people act around them. Donna says building empathy in kids is the key.

Peak bullying times

Although bullying can happen at any age, bullying increases around the start of adolescence. Young people say bullying increases in Years 5 and 6. This is when so called ‘tweens' discover the power of peers. Another peak time occurs with the shift to high school as primary school friendships are broken up and social groups change. As kids get older cyberbullying appears to increase because they have easier access to technology.

What can parents do to stop bullying
 

1. Stay in touch with your child

Work on your relationship with your child. Keep the lines of communication open and talk about feelings and relationships as part of the normal conversation.

Know who your child's friends are and be watchful for any changes in your child's behaviour such as being upset, withdrawn or anxious.

Model the type of relationships you would like your child to have with others. This involves developing your own moral code for being a good friend such as not gossiping and understanding what can hurt others' feelings.

2. Get involved and be aware of your child's cyber activities

Ensure the family computer is in the loungeroom or kitchen so you can keep an eye on what your child is doing. If you are not familiar with any aspect of what your child does online such as using chat rooms or social networking ask them to teach you.

Similarly, if your child becomes afraid to go to school, can't sleep, is continually upset, can't concentrate, is ill or tells you they're being assaulted speak to the school principal or counsellor.

3. Encourage your child to be a good cyber-citizen

Given that you most likely buy the mobile phones, computers and other technology your child may use, it is up to you to lay the ground rules for their use including good digital citizenship and cybersafety.

4. Link with the school

All NSW public schools are required to have an Anti-bullying Plan that should be developed in consultation with parents and carers. The plan outlines how the school will prevent bullying and cyberbullying and deal with any incidents. Ask your school for a copy and read it with your child.

If your child has been bullied

It is hard to find a worse feeling than when your child is being bullied. You feel angry at the injustice of it and just want to fix it for them. Listen sympathetically; let them know that it was not their fault. Give your child some guidelines on what they can do. Sometimes by acting assertively or not over-reacting, the bullying can be stopped. Explore with your child what leads up to the bullying.

Kids who are bullied often avoid telling an adult (including their parents) because they fear the technology will be taken away from them or it will just make the situation worse. If you are aware of school-related bullying issues, encourage your child to tell a trusted adult at school or tell the school yourself. Report incidents of online harassment to your internet service provider and the police if necessary. If your child is bullied through a mobile phone, report the problem to your phone service provider. They can help you block messages or calls from certain senders. If the problem persists, you may want to consider changing the number. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) can investigate offensive websites.


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