The Dangers of Cyberbullying: What Actions Can You Take?
Cyberbullying refers to bullying that takes place through interactive technology, particularly through the internet. It includes insults, embarrassment and harassment. The surge in availability of smartphones, tablets, laptops and the internet has provided bullies with a new platform for their hurtful behaviour. These advancements in technology mean that children and teenagers no longer only face bullying in school. It follows them home via their phone or computer and is always there.
Bullying is a widespread problem, one that everyone needs to address quickly and effectively to reduce the dangers that it poses to people’s wellbeing.
What are the Dangers of Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can often be more dangerous than traditional forms of bullying. It can take place anywhere, anytime, and the bully does not need to be face-to-face with their victim(s). This means that attacks are often more vicious and cruel. The victim might not even know who the bully is, or why they are being targeted. This is the danger of anonymity on the internet. Cyberbullying, just like all types of bullying, can be incredibly damaging to a person’s self-esteem, social skills and confidence.
If you are concerned that a child is the victim of a cyberbullying attack, you should look out for the following behavioural signs:
- Low self-esteem.
- Spending large portions of time alone and withdrawing from family, friends and social situations.
- Refusing to go to school or creating excuses to stay at home.
- Keeping mobiles and laptops hidden from parents and family members.
- Weight loss or appearance changes.
- Any new marks on the skin which might suggest self-harming behaviours.
- Dressing in a way which might suggest they are trying to hide self-harming tendencies, such as long sleeves and trousers when it’s hot outside.
In serious situations, when cyberbullying goes unnoticed and untreated, individuals might attempt suicide. Therefore, it’s critical that you know how to identify cyberbullying so it doesn’t go unnoticed. You need to know how to help victims feel supported and how to report bullying behaviour to stop the attacks.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Posts on a social media or messaging apps can go viral, almost immediately. Anything nasty or offensive posted about someone can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes within minutes of the initial post. Therefore, you should advise children not to divulge any personal or damaging information about themselves to their friends. Instead, if they really need to confide in someone, they should find a trusted adult.
Explain to them that there are measures they can take to protect themselves from cyberbullying.
To prevent cyberbullying, it’s important that you advise young people to:
- Keep all their passwords protected and secret. Young people should never divulge this personal information, even if it is to their ‘best friends’.
- Log out of all their social media accounts when they are not in use.
- Never open any messages from people they don’t know, or from people they know regularly exhibit bullying behaviour. Opening unsolicited text messages could leave them susceptible to computer viruses that can infect devices and collect sensitive, personal information which can then be used to blackmail, embarrass or harass them.
- Ensure privacy controls are set on all computer and social media settings. Privacy settings will help to control who can see your profile and pictures, and send you messages.
- Keep all photos ‘PG’. Sexting and sharing indecent photos, even if they believe the recipient to be a trusted individual, provides other people with ammunition against them.
How to Report Cyberbullying
If you discover that someone received a cyberbullying message, it’s vital that you advise them against responding to, forwarding or deleting the message.
It’s important that they keep the message as evidence of the cyberbullying behaviour. The more evidence you can obtain, the better. Advise the victim to block the perpetrator, and make a record of the time, date and a description of the attack. You should also screenshot and print out copies of the cyberbullying communication. Use the hard copies to report the cyberbullying behaviour to mobile phone and web providers.
There are three places you can report a cyberbullying attack:
- Bullying UK: The Bullying UK helpline (0808 800 2222) and email support (Family Lives) service provide free, confidential advice and support. Their helpline is open 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday, and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday.
- A teacher or tutor: If the bullying behaviour comes from a school peer, it’s important that you make the school aware of the situation.
- Social networking sites: If the bullying takes place on a social media platform, you should report the event directly to the platform. Many social media sites have a way of reporting behaviour that is against their code of conduct. You can use the following links to report cyberbullying behaviour to Facebook, Snapchat or Twitter.