What is Cyberbullying?
When someone intentionally and repeatedly harasses, humiliates, or threatens another person online, that is cyberbullying.
The most common forms of cyberbullying are name-calling, threats, and mean comments about someone’s looks. Cyberbullying most often happens in texts, instant messaging apps, and on social media, but also through email, gaming platforms, and video-sharing platforms.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem that affects young people every day. There is a good chance your child has witnessed cyberbullying, been the target of it, or has even cyberbullied others. In 2022 it was reported that three out of ten Canadian youths say they have been cyberbullied before. Cyberbullying can harm the self-esteem, relationships, and future lives of those involved.
There are actions you can take to be better prepared and help to protect your child in case it ever happens to them. In this article, we will review some common tactics of a cyberbully and what to do if you think your child is being cyberbullied. We will also consider important steps to take if you suspect your child is cyberbullying others.
Common Cyberbullying Tactics
Cyberbullying can reach a target anytime, anywhere. Cyberbullying is relentless and hard to escape as bullies often hide behind their devices and say worse things online than they would face-to-face. The bully could be anonymous, but statistically speaking they are more likely to know the victim.
Some common examples of cyberbullying:
- Bullied for being economically challenged
- Impersonating someone online
- Encouraging self-harm or suicide
- Sending mean or hurtful text messages to someone
- Spreading rumors or gossip through social media or online networks
- Circulating personal photos or videos that do not belong to you and might cause the person(s) in the photo to be upset or embarrassed
- Tricking someone into revealing personal information about themselves which is then shared online
- Ganging up on someone when online gaming or on social media
Help your child to understand it is never okay to post a picture of someone without their permission – especially if you think the person won’t like it. Something that might start as banter or a joke could be picked up by someone else online and be used to bully the unsuspecting victim.
With the right interventions, cyberbullying can be addressed positively to lessen harm and the negative outcomes that could result. When not addressed, cyberbullying can have long-term mental health effects.
IMPORTANT: Nude photo sharing involving a minor is child pornography and is a criminal offense – even if the person circulating the photo is a minor.
What to do if You Think Your Child is Being Cyberbullied
If you think your child is being cyberbullied, you may experience a range of emotions. Keep the lines of communication open, be alert to changes in your child’s behaviour, and be ready to support them and act.
Warning signs to look for
Changes in online habits
- Your child begins to avoid or spends more time using their connected devices.
- They become more secretive about their online activities.
- They receive a lot of new texts, contacts, email addresses, or phone numbers.
- They suddenly delete their social networking profiles and accounts.
- They block one or more numbers or email addresses from their online accounts or email.
Changes in behavior
- Your child avoids conversations that have to do with their online time.
- They avoid school, social situations, and activities with family and friends.
- They begin falling behind in schoolwork or their grades go down.
Emotional, health, and well-being changes
- Your child appears sad, frustrated, impatient, or angry much more than usual.
- They appear upset, withdrawn, or angry after receiving comments, emails, instant messages, or texts.
- They are having trouble sleeping or show less interest in eating.
- In extreme cases, they self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.
What You Can Do
Treat cyberbullying seriously while remaining calm. Your child is more likely to open up to you and accept help if you make it clear you are on their side and know what to do. You can take the following steps:
Talk with your child about cyberbullying
- Understand that they may be reluctant to open up. They may feel uncomfortable, ashamed, or afraid.
- If they haven't come to you, try to bring up a story you heard about cyberbullying or ask them open-ended questions about what they may have seen or been worried about.
- If they have come to you, listen calmly. Be your child's advocate without making the situation worse for them, even if they may have done something wrong for the cyberbullying to begin in the first place
- Learn about the extent of the bullying. It may be just a small incident that has already been handled, or it may be something more serious.
- Make it clear that cyberbullying behaviour is not okay.
- Reassure your child that they are not alone, that they are going to be okay, and that you are there to help.
- Avoid blaming your child for being bullied or judging how they've handled things. You should help them feel safe and build up their self-confidence.
Be aware of what your child does online
- Learn what sites your child uses and what accounts they have. Talk with them about what they do online, and who they do it with.
- Keep up to date with the technology. Learn about the connected devices your child is using, which apps and sites they use, and how they use them all.
- Try it yourself. Set up a social media profile, make posts and share content, and play some of their games. You will have a better understanding of what your child is doing and how to talk with them about it.
Set ground rules for your child's online activity
- Insist your child uses privacy settings. Make sure your child knows how to use the privacy settings and how to restrict who sees the messages, images, or videos they post on social media sites and apps.
- Let your child know you may act if there's a reason for concern. Explain it is part of your job as a parent or guardian to keep them safe, and if you feel there's a risk, you may monitor their online communication.
- Educate your children about passwords and how important they are. Encourage them to create different strong passwords for each site and to never share their passwords with friends.
- Make sure they use a password to lock their devices. This will protect them if their mobile device – and what's on it – ever gets into the wrong hands.
- Ask younger children to give you the passwords they use. Let them know you will only ever use them in an emergency. Teenagers are more likely to see this as an invasion of their privacy.
Teach your child how to respond to cyberbullying
- Let your child know that bullies crave attention, and replying to them gives them more power. If your child receives a bullying message, teach them not to engage and not to openly show their emotions with those doing the bullying if your child sees them in person.
- Do not retaliate. It gives the bully the attention they are hoping for – and reinforces the idea that bullying is okay. It is never okay.
- Block the person doing the bullying. This is one of the most effective ways your child can stop cyberbullying early. Most social media sites and email solutions provide ways to block users from your account.
- Encourage them to come to you or another trusted adult if they ever become a target of cyberbullying.
- If the cyberbully is someone that your child knows through school or through an out-of-school group such as a sports team then you should encourage them to talk to the teacher or coach to let them know this is happening, you may have to do this with them or for them if they are not comfortable doing this by themselves. See Report the cyberbullying to your child's school
Document the cyberbullying
If possible, have your child show you all the offending emails, texts and phone messages, social media posts, images and videos, and instant messaging history. It is important to record the dates and times of all incidents and save and print screenshots for reporting.
Report the cyberbullying to service providers and social media
Report cyberbullying to your Internet and/or mobile service providers. Most have acceptable use policies in place and encourage reports of cyberbullying. If the bully has an account with the same company, and you can provide evidence of the bullying, they may issue a warning or even a suspension or termination of the bully's account if warnings are ignored.
Most social media sites have established policies and channels for cyberbullying and reporting abusive content, as well as other resources.
Report the cyberbullying to your child's school
- Cyberbullying often happens between classmates and other students or it may occur on devices at school, which can disrupt the learning environment. Face-to-face bullying can be happening at the same time.
- Learn who to report cyberbullying to at the school. If you know your child's teacher, you may want to approach them first, or you may want to go to the vice-principal or principal of the school.
- Learn what steps the school and school board take when cyberbullying is reported. Many school boards have a bullying policy too in place. Remember that this isn't a problem the school is responsible for on its own.
- Use the Report It tool to send a secure, anonymous, and confidential message to your school or school district’s safe school coordinator, who will follow up on it right away. You do not have to provide your name unless you want to.
Report the cyberbullying to law enforcement
Do not hesitate to contact your local police authorities should the bullying involve any of these behaviours:
- Making any threats of physical harm or violence.
- Sending and sharing sexually explicit or intimate photos of someone under the age of 18.
- Stalking a victim: where a bully is persistently following or communicating with your child in a harassing way that has them fearing for their safety.
- Using someone else's identity or accounts to facilitate bullying or harassment.
Get help removing sexual images and videos from the internet
You and your child can get help from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in removing sexual images and videos from the Internet at NeedHelpNow.ca
Get support from a mental health professional
Do not hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional if your child is showing signs of depression, isolation, anxiety, loss of interest in eating or sleeping, or has thoughts or shows any signs of self-harm.
If You Think Your Child is Cyberbullying Others
If you suspect or know that your child is involved in cyberbullying, you may feel a mix of emotions – from disbelief to disappointment. It’s important to set that aside and focus on your child’s actions, ensure they understand the seriousness of the issue and be there for them as you deal with the bullying behaviour and any consequences together.
Warning signs to look for
- Your child has multiple accounts on multiple social media sites.
- You hear insults, sarcastic comments, or mean-spirited laughter while your child is online or texting.
- They become more secretive about their online activity.
- They become annoyed or quickly hide their screens when you come near.
- They spend long hours online — perhaps when others are sleeping.
- Your child is spending time with friends who behave in ways that are mean or uncaring.
- They don't seem to care if their words or actions hurt others.
- They may resist following rules.
- They may be judgmental and critical of others.
What you can do
Help them understand the seriousness of their actions, and act to prevent them from happening in the future.
Talk with your child about cyberbullying
- Stay calm and focus on your child's actions.
- Let them know you are aware of the cyberbullying. Ask them to tell you exactly what has occurred.
- Reinforce that cyberbullying is unacceptable, for any reason.
- Help them understand the consequences of their actions and how they may have made the target of the cyberbullying feel. Ask them how they'd feel if someone was doing the same things to them or to someone they care about.
- Talk with them about known cases where things have led to very tragic results. Ask them how they would feel if their behaviour led to that.
- Try to get an understanding of why they may be doing this. Are they trying to fit into a peer group? Are they trying to be more popular and be liked by others? Are they upset about something at home? Or have they been bullied themselves and are trying to get revenge?
- Talk with them about the seriousness of their actions. Let them know their actions may be criminal and ask them how they'd feel if their actions were reported to the police or school authorities.
Act to stop cyberbullying behavior
- Monitor your child’s online activity more carefully. Try to learn what social media apps and sites they are using and how. As much as possible, keep connected devices in common areas.
- Consider limiting the amount of time they spend online.
- Consider installing monitoring software on connected devices.
- Encourage your child to remove the hurtful messages, videos, photos, or other content they have posted if possible.
- Help them learn to use social media thoughtfully and respectfully. Encourage them to wait one minute after writing something before posting it, then ask themselves if what they've written is hurtful.
- If you feel their friends are negatively influencing your child’s behaviour, you may want to encourage your child to spend less time with them – online and off.
- If the bullying continues, consider taking away their device or computer for some time.
- Encourage your child to apologize to the person their actions have hurt – but only if an apology would be sincere
Social media is a great place to reconnect, share, and learn. However, ensuring that your social media privacy settings are strong isn’t the only way to protect yourself. You need to understand what is being collected and how it is being used.
It can be nearly impossible to permanently delete a photo or comment once it’s posted. Always reflect on what you are posting and why you are posting it. Who can see it? Is it appropriate? Is it true?
You should NEVER post anything online you wouldn’t be happy being printed on a billboard on the side of the highway.
Did You Know?
- Once you post anything online, you have lost control of it.
- Did you know that every Comment, Like, and Share is logged?
- Did you know that every Post is logged and searchable?
- It is permanent
- It can be copied
- It can be seen by unintended and much larger audiences
- It can lead to cyberbullying
- It leaves you vulnerable to cybercrime
The more information you share, and the more others share about you, the more information that is collected and saved, to be used by businesses, governments, and everyone that is connected to you online. Now and in the future.
As well as making sure that you have your privacy options set, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to consider and limit what you share and what others share about you, regardless of the privacy options you use.
Social Media Checklist to Review with Your Child Before They Post
- Who can read this?
- Would I say this to someone’s face?
- Would I like this if someone said it to me?
- How would I feel if my parents or grandparents saw this?
- Is this lifting someone up or pushing them down?
- Am I posting in anger?
- Is this funny without being mean?
- If I look at my last 10 posts, do I like the picture that they paint of who I am?
- Am I showing a bad side of myself?
- Could someone misinterpret what I am saying?
- Am I revealing too much about myself?
- Do I have permission to post this?
Rules for Staying Safe Online
Review & Resources
Privacy & Your Digital Footprint