Here are the signs to watch out for.
Parents deal with a lot on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I am dealing with a lot – and it’s fair to say that I’m struggling a little to keep up with every single thing that is going on in my three kids’ lives, both online and off.
And it’s a worry – because the internet doesn’t shut down at 3pm when the bell sounds, which means that your child could be being bullied from beyond the schoolyard. It could be happening in your home and you don’t even know it.
In fact, a recent survey by internet security company Norton revealed that 74 per cent of Australian parents are oblivious to their kids’ online activities. Around 41 percent of Australian parents surveyed never check their children’s online activities, 52 per cent never discuss sexting, 41 per cent never discuss cyberbullying and 37 per cent never discuss stranger danger online. Eek.
So, how can parents recognise the signs and get help if their child is being cyberbullied?
I asked Dr Suzy Green, clinical psychologist and founder of The Positivity Institute. She told me how to spot the most telling ‘signs’ of cyberbullying.
1. They’re not their normal self.
You notice they are behaving in ways that are not part of their usual behavioural repertoire, such as talking and socialising less, changing their eating and sleeping patterns, or often withdrawing to their bedroom and away from family meals and events.
These changes in behaviour are driven by a change in emotions such as sadness, shame or fear.
2. They’re easily irritated or upset.
They seem more reactive than normal and you may even notice that you feel a sense of heaviness just being close to them. The anger might be driven by a sense of hopelessness to change the situation and by the hurt caused by the bullying. Research is increasingly showing us that emotions are contagious – so trust your feelings as a parent if you feel something’s not right.
3. They either withdraw from you, or become increasingly clingy.
They are either ashamed of what’s happening and don’t want you to know or they are seeking safety by wanting to be closer to you but without sharing what’s driving the need for security.
You might be thinking that all sounds a bit like typical teenage behaviour – but you should know in your gut if something is unusual and a little “off”.
If you do feel that the behaviour of your teenager or child isn’t just the result of hormones, Dr Green suggests the following:
“First and foremost, you need to be ‘mindful’ to notice these changes. If you’re a busy parent, as many of us are, then it can be tricky to stay on top of the daily happenings let alone fluctuations in our child’s emotions. This however is something that good parenting requires,” she says.
“Once you notice a change, try to hold a ‘curious mindset’ rather than jumping to conclusions. Try not to get angry at your child for any of the changes in behaviour noted above. Try to find some time, perhaps in the car or when you’re engaged in an activity side-by-side e.g. walking, where you can raise your concerns in a caring manner to see if they will open up to you about what might be happening – in a non-confronting manner.
“If it is cyberbullying you’re concerned about, then if you haven’t done so already, set a home rule to keep use of all electronic devices to the lounge room or family room where you can monitor their use and your child’s interactions and reactions.”
What I take from everything that Dr Green told me is that we as parents need to be approachable and not judgemental; to be someone our children feel comfortable coming to when they are in distress; and to be aware but not hyper vigilant.
But most of all, we just need our kids to remember to take time out from the online stuff, and to know that the real magic happens in real world.
What is your experience with cyberbullying? How did you help your children?
Want more? Try these:
Norton Tips: How to Respond to Cyberbullying
Internet security company Norton has developed some tips that help parents address cyberbullying with their children-
1. If your child is being harassed online through a social network, block the harasser from your child’s account
2. Do not respond to the harasser/s online as this could encourage them to continue
3. Find out how to report bullying and harassment on each of the social networks that your child uses
4. Keep a record of calls, messages, posts and emails that may be offensive and harmful
5. Be kind. If your child has harassed a person online: teach them to apologise and take down any offensive material as soon as possible
6. Explore technology like Norton Family which is a free online service that lets parents keep tabs on where their kids go and what they do and see online
To learn more and start using Norton Family for free visit www.norton.com/au/protectingkids