With so many scare stories about cyberbullying, it’s not surprising that parents can feel overwhelmed. Our Q&A helps to shed some light…

Is there more bullying today than there used to be?

The research doesn’t show that there is any more bullying than there used to be, although technology has shifted some of it online.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is when a person uses technology to abuse, harass or humiliate someone repeatedly over the internet. This could involve sending messages by mobile phone or over social media, or sharing images or personal information.

What difference does online make?

Because we can be connected to the internet 24 hours a day, cyberbullying can follow someone into their home – even into their bedroom – and can be hard to escape. As online platforms allow for content to be viewed and shared by others, it can spread more quickly and be seen by a much larger audience than it would offline.

Why is anonymity significant?

Some platforms allow a bully to hide their identity behind a fake or anonymous profile. That said, everyone’s digital footprint is traceable. It’s also important to report and block abuse, and to think about who has access to a victim’s profile and whether they want to restrict who can make contact.

What is the difference between normal adolescent online “drama” and bullying?

Parents and adults may not be the best judges of what constitutes bullying. There may be in-jokes or everyday “drama” that we don’t understand. The key is always how a young person feels about it. Something that began as a joke online may become hurtful: humour can be lost with no face-to-face interaction. There are bound to be times when adolescents feel excluded; online games or social media platforms can exacerbate this sense of being left out. The key, again, is to take your lead from your child. But harassing someone or sharing their personal data without permission is definitely not OK.

What should I do if I think my child is being bullied online?

Believe and listen to them, praise them for speaking out and remember you are not the only family going through this. Tell them not to retaliate – that’s exactly what the bullies want. Instead, take the power back: block them and hopefully the bullying will stop. Every site has a way of blocking and reporting. It’s also a good idea to save any evidence of bullying, which can be vital if it escalates. The Malicious Communications Act protects users online, so don’t be afraid to approach your local police if the abuse is particularly threatening or serious. It might also be a good idea to sit down and look at your child’s friends list and work out together who their real friends are.

What if I think my child is bullying someone online?

We all say things that we don’t mean, and on the internet it’s easy to get brave and say things that you would never say to someone’s face. It’s important that your child understands when their actions have become bullying and that at such a point they need to stop. First, remain calm. We all make mistakes; the important thing is to learn from them. Listen to your child, don’t jump in and blame them. Find out the facts. There’s likely to be a reason they are acting this way – but don’t accept excuses. Help them to understand the impact of their words both online and offline and don’t be afraid to use your support network: think about friends, family and even school staff that you could be speak to about what is going on.

Is it true that some children bully themselves?

A survey by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre found that 9% of the 617 students interviewed had bullied themselves online anonymously. Other studies are scarce, but it is important that we look deeper into the lives of such people and understand why they are doing it.

How can I increase my child’s awareness of cyberbullying?

A good way to broach the subject is to ask your child what they would do if they ever saw someone being bullied online or offline, talking to them about not being a bystander and being kind to others. You can let them know that you will always be there to listen and help if they ever have a problem, worry or concern, and encourage them them to think about their support network inside and outside school as well. The best thing you can do as a parent is to keep talking to your child so that they know they can always come to you when they need support or advice.

This article first appeared in Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine (2015).

Alex Holmes

Alex Holmes is the head of The Diana Award's Anti-Bullying Campaign.

The Diana Award is a charity that was founded as a legacy to Diana, Princess of Wales, who believed that young people have the power to change the world for the better. It runs the Anti-Bullying Campaign, which empowers young people, schools and parents to tackle bullying online and offline.