5 Cyberbullying Points to Discuss at Home
Is It Time to Have “That Talk?”
The “Birds and the Bees” is one of those delicate topics make both parents and their kids squirm. Cyberbullying is another. Parents may scratch their heads, and kids’ eyes may roll, but it’s an important talk to have in our increasingly wired world. If your child…
- Has a smart phone
- Uses any social media
- Uses instant messaging in any form
…it’s time to sit them down for the cyberbullying talk.
A Sad Segue into the Talk
In recent news, Australian celebrity Charlotte Dawson took her life after a period of suffering mental illness, which may have been aggravated by cyberbullying. Well-known to young people for her role in Australia’s Next Top Model, Charlotte’s tragic end can provide an opportunity for parents to broach the subject of online harassment with their kids. Charlotte Dawson had what appeared from the outside an ideal life. The glamorous and caring young woman was a campaigner against bullying.
Dawson had her own run-ins with trolls, on-line bullies who lurk around social media sites, hiding behind false identities, waiting to taunt and enflame situations. Charlotte famously outed a Twitter troll who, in response to her public admission about battling mental illness, told her to go hang herself.
Trolls are an unfortunate reality of cyberspace. They gloat over misfortune and make inane or inflammatory contributions to public forums with the sole purpose of getting a reaction. Many trolls hone in on celebrities because that is where they are likely to find the greatest audience for their mischief. The best stance against trolls is to ignore them. “Don’t feed the trolls,” is a well-known internet mantra.
Cyberbullying and the Risks
Cyberbullying is defined as repeated “mean, nasty or threatening text messages/instant messages/pictures/video clips/emails that are sent directly to a person or others via a mobile phone or the internet.” (Pearce, Cross, Monks, Waters, & Falconer, 2011) A power differential, repetition, and intent to harm are features of cyberbullying. (“Cyber-fighting” happens between two people of equal power.) Because of the quantity of time spent online, adolescents’ and younger kids’ risk of exposure to cyberbullying is high.
5 Cyberbullying Points You and Your Kids Should Discuss
- Expectations: You expect your child to behave well online. Clarify your house rules on what happens if your kids misbehave or bully online. This is a good time to institute “Random Spot Checks,” when you periodically check their accounts to make sure they are conducting themselves well.
- Empathy: Talk about how it feels to be bullied and how it feels to witness someone being bullied. Children need explicit help to develop empathy.
- Stepping Back: Logging off is sometimes the best step. Blocking and reporting are also good. Make sure your kids know how to do this on their favourite sites. Go there together and figure it out together.
- Getting Help: Dobbing (tattling) and asking for help are two different things. Discuss with your kids and make sure they are very clear that you will help them if they ever feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. Ask them what would stop them from coming to you for help. (They will probably say, “You’ll freak out.” Promise them you won’t blame them or over-react.) Help them list another two people (a teacher or an aunt, for example) they could go to for help.
- Serious Business: Let them know that in order to keep them safe, you will need to know dates, user names, and accounts. Screenshots are helpful. Many kids who encounter trouble online are inclined to muddle their tracks (or try to, by closing accounts, deleting comments, and so forth.) All of that is evidence that will help if you ever need to involve the police. Tell them to speak to you before they delete anything.’
Want to know more?
How Parents Can Prevent and Respond to Cyberbullying (Australian Government)
If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide, contact
- Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22,
- Lifeline 13 11 14,
- Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36 or
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Creative Commons Image courtesy of Italian photographer Nicola.