According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), Australian primary schools have one of the highest reported incidences of bullying in the world. With the growing prevalence of digital technologies in school, the Internet and mobile phones are becoming one of the key tools in bullying behaviour. This allows bullies to target other people offline and online – leaving the victims with no safe haven from the torment.
Here are six signs of cyberbullying to help parents recognise whether their child is being bullied and how to prevent the situation from escalating:
1. Snappy answers and mood swings
Frequent moods swings don’t necessarily mean the child is being bothered by their peers. But if these are accompanied by jumpy and nervous reactions to common questions, especially after disconnecting from the virtual world, it may be time to ask if they are having any trouble. Parents shouldn’t be satisfied with “good” and “fine” as these don’t always mean “good” and “fine”. Sometimes parents have to dig deeper to find out how their child really feels about their experience online, and determine whether this may point to cyberbullying.
2. Deleted social network account
If a child suddenly quits Facebook or Instagram or any other of their favourite social media sites, parents should be aware. In an age where young people invest significant time and energy into virtual reality and social networks, deleting an account might be a signal that something serious is going on in their lives. Parental control tools installed on a child’s devices give parents a good overview of which apps they prefer and frequently use.
3. Withdrawing from friends and family in real life
It is only natural that teenagers are trying to become more independent from their parents and thus devote more time into building their own network of friends. Yet, if they distance themselves from the latter, hide from the outside world in their rooms and avoid social media as well as their devices, something may be amiss.
4. Dramatic physical changes
If these aforementioned points are paired with a child’s sudden loss of weight, appetite, or trouble sleeping, bullying may be the cause. The stress associated with incessant bullying can provoke these dramatic physical signs. This should spark immediate concern for parents, and be appropriately addressed.
5. Pretending to be sick and trying to avoid school
Every child uses various excuses to get out of school from time to time. Whether it’s because of a test they’re unprepared for or just a difficult day at school, kids will try to avoid challenges they feel they are unable to overcome. However, if this façade is performed too often, there could be a more serious issue behind it, such as a fear of an inevitable conflict with their bully. If the child’s online bully also attends their school, this could discourage the child from attending and having to confront their bully in person.
6. Other indirect signs
Monitoring your child’s mental behaviour is crucial to combatting cyberbullying. Noticing if the child is showing signs of depression, appearing upset after being online, or expressing emotions from extreme ends of the spectrum, are all strong indicators that they are a victim of cyberbullying.
What should you as a parent do?
First and foremost, talk to your children. Let them know you care about them and are there to help. Never underestimate the threat cyberbullying poses for children’s health and always take action. If possible, document the cyberbully’s messages or posts and use them as evidence of their actions. Use reliable parental control solutions that give a good overview of what the child is up to when online, helping the parents spot problems when they arise.
Written by Nick FitzGerald, Senior Research Fellow at ESET