What is cyberbullying? If your daughter has a mobile phone, a games console, uses social networking sites, instant messenger programs, or simply has her own email address, then she may well be a witness to online bullying. Worse, she may become the target of a cyberbully herself. This might mean she receives abusive emails, texts or comments on her Facebook wall – or even that modified images or videos of her are circulated online without her knowledge or consent.
"What makes cyberbullying particularly tough is that your daughter can't escape it," says Liz Watson, head of BeatBullying, the UK's leading bullying prevention charity. "With traditional bullying, when she gets home it stops, but with cyberbullying it carries on, even in her bedroom."
Cyberbullying is on the rise. Since January 2009, the UK charity Family Lives reports that it has seen calls to its bullying helpline increase by 13%, while calls specifically about cyberbullying have soared by 77%. Appearance is a common target for cyberbullying attacks – and girls experience it twice as much as boys, according to The Protection of Children Online: a Brief Scoping Review to Identify Vulnerable Groups published by the UK Department for Education.
"A lot of young people think it's OK to make negative comments about the way people look," says Watson. "After all, they do it all the time with celebrities in those 'what is she wearing?' magazine articles.”
It's also easier to use appearance as a target, as many forms of cyberbullying are based on visual imagery. This makes it easier to bring up the subject of how your clothes, hair and body look in the pictures and videos you've posted online.
But being the target of persistent teasing about an aspect of their appearance can have a real and detrimental impact on a girl's self-esteem. If this starts to impact your daughter's life choices – from the clothes she wears to the pictures she's willing to share online – then it's time to take action.
Talk with your daughter about the situation, decide clear actions to resolve the problem together and help her develop online behaviour that can help protect her from the impact of cyberbullies in the future. Much of her life will be conducted online or via her mobile phone so burying your (or her) head in the sand is not an option. Developing protective strategies now to deal with online criticism or bullying will be an important skill for lifelong self-esteem.
Use the checklist we've put together to help understand the issues, support your daughter and take action to help stop cyberbullying in its tracks.
Recognizing there’s a problem: it can be hard to detect this kind of bullying. Talk to your daughter about how she uses technology. You can’t police her every move, but by being aware of the sites she likes and the games she plays, you’ll notice if she suddenly changes her habits – a sign that something is up.
Reassuring your daughter: help your daughter understand that the way she treats people should be the same, both on and offline and she should expect the same from others. If she respects that rule, her friends are more likely to follow.
Share your experience: talk to your daughter about why people bully and help her to gain perspective and insight from your personal experiences as well as learning from her own observations.
Support your daughter by positively engaging with the issue: discuss how the comments are making her feel and try to give her some perspective. Show her there are other points of view. For example, she may be being teased about her hair colour, but it could be that you have the same hair colour and it’s one of your favourite features.
Reassure her it’s not her fault: talk to her about why people bully. Help her to see that it’s not her fault and there’s no need to change her appearance or try to conform in response.
Get support from her school: if you think the issue needs raising with her school, or even the police, discuss a course of action together so she feels in control.
Be proactive with online tools: use the ‘block’ or ‘report’ function against the person making the nasty comments – most social networking sites now have them. Some websites have buttons that link straight through to CEOP’s Safety Centre , allowing you to report online bullying on the spot.
Gather evidence: save as much evidence of the bullying as you can, from text messages to screenshots of webpages, as this will all help build a better picture of the bullying.
Don’t tackle the bully directly: avoid responding to the bully in any way – it will provoke them to continue. Instead, keep a record of it, show it to someone else and then turn off the device to get some space from the bully.
Family Lives concern at cyber-bullying increase
The Protection of Children Online: a Brief Scoping Review to Identify Vulnerable Groups
UK Safer Internet Centre: parent advice and resources
NSPCC statistics on bullying
NSPCC bullying resources
Dr Christina Berton Self-esteem expert and founder of the Amara Pro Self-Esteem Foundation
Article date: 26 June 2013
Review date: 26 June 2014
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