Many parents struggle to help their children with cyberbullying, online harassment or digital abuse related problems. The prospect of trying to “fix” a problem online can seem particularly daunting as a parent, trying to keep updated of the fast growing list of social media platforms competing for our children’s attention! Without a full understanding of our children’s activities online, parents can be left feeling helpless and frustrated. This section explores some of the most common difficulties in dealing with cyberbullying and online abuse as a parent, and hopes to guide you through the steps you can take to ensure you give your child the best possible chance of a safe and healthy digital life.
Young people use the Internet for a variety of different reasons. Some young people use the Internet as a way of escaping – they believe that once they enter the digital world, they can be their authentic self and express themselves accordingly. Some young people use social media platforms as a mask to disguise their insecurities and worries. Either way, they invest a lot of time and emotion into their online profiles, and for this reason anything said about them online can have a profound effect – which could be either positive or negative.
When a problem such as cyberbullying arises, unfortunately law enforcement can not always be relied upon to solve the situation. In most parts of the world, cyberbullying and traditional bullying is not yet considered a criminal offence – which makes it very difficult for the police to intervene and advise further. School policies vary, and some consider cyberbullying, digital harassment and other online problems to be out of their jurisdiction – this leaves parents with little or no support to help them choose the correct course of action to take. It is worth noting that if the cyberbullying or online digital abuse has migrated from within the school on to the internet, this could well be covered by existing school bullying policies – it is advisable to contact the school and work together to resolve the issues before they escalate further.
It is important to make sure that your child knows you are there for them, especially when they are experiencing this type of trauma. If a child or teenager believes that their parents aren’t going to understand what they are going through, or if they believe that their parents might restrict their internet access or remove their social media accounts – they are unlikely to come to you with their problems or concerns. Without the help and support that they need, they risk becoming isolated and the ‘bottling up’ of the problem – which can lead to other symptoms such as; depression, self-harm, anxiety, social exclusion and underperforming academically. This can affect every aspect of your child’s life.
Try to stay in contact with your child online and offline (don’t confuse this with making them feel ‘spied on’ as this will have a negative effect). This will give you a chance to see their ‘digital world’ and help them to feel comfortable coming to you if they do need help and support. Adopt an ‘open door’ approach to encourage your child to talk to you openly about any concerns they may have, without judgement. Even if there is something you are unable to fix, you can support, advise and assist in finding an appropriate solution.