Digital technology has many positive benefits for your children, from developing crucial IT skills to providing a source of entertainment and fun.

Unfortunately, the internet, mobiles and other devices have also created a new channel for bullying. Known as cyberbullying, this can be extremely upsetting for children and teenagers – especially as the scale, speed and 24/7 nature of the digital world means it can take place anywhere and at any time.

What do I need to know about cyberbullying? 

Around one in three young people in the UK say they have been cyberbullied, so you need to understand what this form of bullying entails and how you can help your child to avoid becoming a victim or a perpetrator.

Bullies use technology to make threats, intimidate, harass, defame and exclude young people and, in some cases, to impersonate them or steal their identity. Some of the most common cyberbullying methods are:

  • Text bullying – your child might receive nasty or threatening text messages
  • Bullying on a social network – someone might post nasty comments about your child on a site such as Facebook or set up a fake profile about them
  • Nuisance/prank calls – someone might call your child persistently on their mobile and say nasty things to them
  • Publishing and sharing images without your child’s permission – photos, videos or webcam footage of your child could be circulated via email or text, posted online, or tagged with their name on a public website
  • “Happy slapping” – cyberbullies might use their mobiles to take photos or videos of your child while they verbally or physically abuse them
  • Email and Instant Message (IM) bullying – your child might receive nasty or threatening emails or IMs from someone they know or a stranger
  • Bullying during interactive gaming – if your child plays multi-player games, a fellow gamer might try to block or ignore them. 

Just like bullying in the real world, cyberbullying can have a very negative impact on your child – undermining their confidence and sense of security, affecting their attendance and performance at school and fuelling prejudice.

It’s therefore crucial that you understand the different types of cyberbullying (some of which are outlined above) and know what action you can take if your child is being cyberbullied (see below). That way, you can help your child to stay safe and protect their reputation online.

You also need to ensure that your child doesn’t become a bully or bystander themselves.

Young people who have never bullied anyone in real life might be drawn into cyberbullying because they think they’re anonymous when they use the internet or their mobile. They might do things that they wouldn’t dream of doing face-to-face and use technology to deliberately upset a friend, a stranger, even a teacher. Or they might succumb to peer pressure and forward a bullying email or text on or take part in a bullying conversation on a social networking site without thinking about the consequences.

What action can I take?  

Talk to your child about cyberbullying, just as you would about other kinds of bullying, and encourage them to come to you if anyone ever upsets them when they’re on the internet, their mobile or other devices. Ask them things like:

Have they ever received an email, text or online message/comment that upset them?

Has anyone posted a photo or video of them online without their permission?

Have they been involved in bullying someone online or via their mobile?

If your child tells you they’re being cyberbullied, offer them practical as well as emotional support:

Reassure them that they have done the right thing by telling you what’s going on

Explain that they should not respond to any of the bullying as it might make things worse

Sit down with your child and make a written record of the cyberbullying and gather evidence, such as saving texts or printing out emails and screen shots of websites – don’t delete anything

Make the most of built-in tools on your child’s internet or mobile services to prevent further cyberbullying – for example, you can remove the bully from ‘friends’ lists and set your child’s social network profile to private, if it isn’t already

Contact your child’s internet, mobile or social networking provider – if what’s happened contravenes their Terms of Use or Community Guidelines, they could suspend the bully’s account, remove content or set up a new mobile number, for example

If your child thinks the cyberbully is a fellow student, talk to their teacher – it’s compulsory for UK schools to have an anti-bullying policy in place so they will know what action to take

If you think a crime has been committed or if you’re worried your child is in immediate danger, contact the local police – even though cyberbullying is not a specific criminal offence in the UK, other laws might apply

If you think your child could be using technology to bully someone else:

Talk to them about cyberbullying and explain why it’s unacceptable and has to stop

Have an open discussion with your child – ask them why they’re doing it and listen to what they say

If they didn’t realise that what they were doing was bullying, explain that bullying is not just physical – using technology to tease, embarrass and spread rumours are also bullying behaviours

Talk to their teacher about what’s been going on and let them know that you’re willing to work with the school to ensure it doesn’t happen again

Reassure your child that you still love them but make it clear that their behaviour must change

Encourage them to tell you or a teacher about any bullying that they witness, including cyberbullying incidents

Where can I go for more information and support? 

Cyberbullying is a complex area, so you might find the following websites useful for further information about cyberbullying and e-safety:

If your child is being cyberbullied, they might want to talk to someone in confidence – you could recommend the following support organisations in the UK:

In addition:

  • Check out Vodafone's new #BeStrong emojis to help young people support their friends if they are bullied
  • Let your child's school know about the new anti-bullying resources, called Be Strong Online, that are available from Vodafone and The Diana Award's Anti-Bullying Campaign
  • Read the article about bullying on page 28 of the latest Vodafone Digital Parenting magazine
  • Get advice and talk to other parents on Mumsnet
  • Call Family Lives' 24/7 Parentline for guidance on a wide range of parenting issues