What to do if you find out your child is a cyber bully

Discovering your child is a victim of cyberbullying is distressing enough for any parent – but what if your son or daughter is the bully?

Cyberbullying consultant Niff Howard says it’s natural to feel shock or disbelief if you find out your child is bullying their peers.

“It is normal to experience a mixture of emotions – disappointment, frustration, anger, embarrassment,” says Niff, of counselling service Parentline.

“But the most important thing we can do at this time is to understand children are still developing.”

Here’s how to spot bullying, and encourage your child to make some positive behaviour changes.

Signs your child might be a cyberbully

“The most common sign a child or teen may be engaging in cyberbullying behaviour is a noticeable change in their usual behaviour, especially around use of their online devices,” says Niff.

This could either be a dramatic increase in the time they spend online or they might be extremely protective when it comes to passwords, or access to social media accounts.

Other things to watch for include personality changes, distress or loneliness, a decline in schoolwork, unexpected changes in friendship groups or regular health complaints.

How to talk to your child about cyberbullying

You need to raise the bullying with your child to help them change their behaviour, says Niff.

But this needs to be done with compassion, demonstrating the empathy you want them to build,” Niff says.

“After all, it is unlikely someone intentionally causes another person harm for no reason.”

Try to find out more information from your child, without it feeling like an interrogation.

The most important thing is for parents to avoid labelling their child as “a bully”, says Niff.

Instead, talk about “bullying behavior”.

“This will allow the child to identify they are more than the label of ‘bully’, encourage ownership of their behaviour and hopefully, identify different ways to act in the future,” she says.

Remember, you’re the adult

While your children might trump you when it comes to technology, don’t forget you’re the one with the judgement and maturity, says Julie Inman Grant, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner.

“Our kids can seem more confident on the internet than we, their parents, but don’t be fooled by this,” she says.

“For many of them, it is a confusing and threatening place.”

And it’s one that can only be navigated safely and successfully with the guidance of adults, says Julie.

How to stop your child cyberbullying

Your first instinct might be to confiscate your child’s phone, but this can be unhelpful and alienate them from their peers, says Julie.

“A lot of parents get freaked out, but taking a phone away from a young person today is like taking away their left arm.”

Instead, says Niff, you should help them build empathy and understand that their actions are hurting others.

It’s also an important time to be a good role model, as well as taking a compassionate approach as your child learns to navigate a complex world.

Written by Larissa Ham.