A guide to online bullying for parents and carers
Online bullying can have a devastating impact on young people, whose online life is a key part of their identity and how they interact socially.
Cyberbullying behaviour takes many forms, such as sending abusive messages, hurtful images or videos, nasty online gossip, excluding or humiliating others, or creating fake accounts in someone’s name to trick or humiliate them.
I think my child is being bullied
Your child may not tell you if they are experiencing bullying behaviour online because of a fear it might make things worse for them or they may lose access to their devices and the internet.
By reporting it, talking about it and supporting each other, we can stop it.
Signs to watch for:
- being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone
- changes in personality, becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry
- appearing more lonely or distressed
- unexpected changes in friendship groups
- a decline in their school work
- changes in their sleep patterns
- avoidance of school or clubs
- a decline in their physical health
- becoming secretive about their online activities and mobile phone use
What to do
Whatever the age of your child
Try to resist immediately taking away their device
- Removing your child’s phone or computer could be really unhelpful. Cutting off their online access does not teach them about online safety or help build resilience. It could alienate them from their peers, and it also removes an essential tool for them to communicate and connect with friends.
Stay calm and open — don’t panic
- • You want your child to feel confident that you’re not immediately going to get upset, angry or anxious if they tell you about the situation. You want them to know they can talk to you and feel heard.
- The best way to do this is make sure you have an open dialogue from the beginning. Talk to them without being judgemental or angry, and make them feel like they can come to you with anything, without fear of being punished.
Listen, think, pause
- • Gauge the scale of the problem. Does it exist in
a peer group or is it more widespread? Is it a few remarks here and there? Or is it more serious?Empathise with your child and let them know that you understand how they feel.
- How badly is it affecting your child personally? If the bullying itself is not very intense, but your child seems quite seriously affected, this could be a symptom of something larger. In this case you may need to seek help, from a school counsellor,
a helpline, or an external professional.
- Try not to respond until you have had time to work out the best course of action. Reassure your child you are working on it and will come together again very soon to talk through some options. Let them know you are there if they feel like they need to talk in the meantime.
Act to protect your child if necessary
- If your child is being threatened, or if they indicate a wish to harm themselves, you should get professional help. Call Triple Zero (000) immediately, if their physical safety is at risk.
Empower your child
- Wherever possible, try to build your child’s confidence and help them make wise decisions for themselves, rather than telling them what to do.
- If you feel they may be struggling to open up to you, connect them with other trusted adults or with professional support.
- • Before you or your child block someone or delete posts or other bullying material, take screenshots and collect evidence including dates and times.
- The evidence may be useful if the bullying behaviour continues and you need a record of how long it has been going on. You may also need evidence if you want to report it.
- However, if the bullying material involves sexualised images, be aware that possessing or sharing such images of people under 18 may be a crime, even if you have just taken a screenshot for evidence purposes. For information about relevant laws in Australia, visit Youth Law Australia. You can also read our advice about sharing intimate images sending nudes and sexting.
Manage contact with others
- • Advise your child not to retaliate or respond to bullying messages, as sometimes people say hurtful things just to get a response and it could make things worse. If they have
already responded, encourage them not to respond further.
- Help your child to block or unfriend the person sending the messages to limit contact with them.
- Help your child change their privacy settings to restrict who can see their posts and profile page. Advice on privacy settings is available in the eSafety Guide.
- Encourage your child to ask their friends whether mean content is still being posted and if so, ask them to report it.
- Many social media services, games, apps and websites make it easy to report content posted by other people. Our eSafety Guide has links to report abusive content and online
- If serious cyberbullying is affecting your child and you need help to get the material removed from a social media service or other platform, we can help.
- You can make a cyberbullying report to eSafety on your child’s behalf if they are under 18 years of age. It may be useful for you to read the frequently asked questions about making a report and information about how we handle cyberbullying reports.
Consider seeking support from your child’s school
- Your child’s school may have a policy in place to address cyberbullying and may be able to provide support, whether or not the bullying is from a student at your child’s school.
- With your child’s agreement, talk to their teacher or the school counsellor.
Encourage positive connections and coping strategies
- Try to keep your child engaged with interests like sports or dance that connect them with other young people outside school, or with activities that involve extended family. These things will also remind your child that they are loved and lovable.
- Help your child identify tools they can use to work through the current situation, as well as help build resilience for any future challenges. Check out good habits start young for some tips.