With Anti-Bullying Week upon us, it is important that parents and students understand as much as possible about this harmful behaviour. While cyberbullying has been given a higher priority by schools over the past few years, a recent Ofsted report reveals that 5% of schools nationwide still do not have an e-safety policy in place. When we consider the fact that 88% of children aged five to fifteen had access to the Internet last year and that nearly one in ten children receive their first phone aged just five you can see that inadequate protection against cyberbullying could be having a negative impact on the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable children. Even the United Nations has undertaken a global study of the impact and extent of "˜cyber violence' towards women and children.
While most parents are aware of the negative effects of bullying, how many parents know how to spot it, understand the best way to prevent it, or are aware of the role that schools must play when it comes to e-safety? This blog post aims to make a noise about cyberbullying, and provide advice on protecting your child.
"Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology", according to the government website Stop Bullying. This includes computers and smartphones, and cyberbullying can happen through any form of communication within these devices. Cyberbullying typically takes the form of abusive messages, sharing private pictures with the intent to embarrass or "˜hacking' into the victim's accounts or devices. Whether it's on a social media website, a video game or just via text message, these actions can be classed as cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can be particularly hurtful as it can invade your child's privacy. It can make an individual feel vulnerable, even in their own home, and can seriously damage confidence levels and social skills. It is also especially harmful as it can take place in front of a large "˜audience' – an abusive message may be seen by an entire class or even school. In addition, because messages on a computer tend to be saved or "˜archived' cyberbullying can continue to haunt the victim for weeks, months or even years after the initial incident.
2. Educating Your Child
The best way to protect your child from cyberbullying is to educate them on what cyberbullying is and how it can be prevented. Firstly, it is very important to communicate with your children about cyberbullying. Try asking them if they are taught about cyberbullying at school, or if they know what it is. Be tactful and reasonable – the aim is to discuss cyberbullying rather than scare your child off using a computer for good!
Gently remind your child to think before they post messages or images which they might regret, and not to share their login details with other people, even their friends. Most importantly of all, you must make sure that your child can come and talk to you if they experience any kind of cyberbullying at school. It is best to be patient rather than forceful with your child, don't force them into a conversation that they aren't ready to have. They have to feel that they want to talk to you, not that they should.
3. The Law and Cyberbullying
"By law, all state (not private) schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils. This policy is decided by the school. All teachers, pupils and parents must be told what it is." This is a simple definition of a school's responsibility by law. If you are unsure as to what your child's bullying policy is, which should include a cyberbullying policy, the best course of action is to first check with a teacher.
4. Schools and E-safety Responsibilities
Schools are legally responsible for their students' welfare even beyond the physical boundaries of the school grounds. The Anti-Bullying Alliance explains that "head teachers have powers to respond to bullying outside of school premises, and to search for and confiscate items that may have been used to bully or intimidate". It is therefore the duty of your child's head teacher to reprimand cyberbullies.
5. Spotting Cyberbullying
You may think your child would tell you if they were experiencing severe cyberbullying. However a recent Ofcom study showed that 26% of those who experience cyberbullying do not tell anyone about it. You therefore have to watch out for the indicators yourself. These typically consist of irregular behaviour prior to, during or after the use of any electronic technology, an unwillingness to return to school or socialise as before, and most crucially, shying away from any questioning regarding what is causing their behaviour.
6. Reporting Cyberbullying
One of the best ways to protect your child against cyberbullying is to report it properly. You can either report the incident to your child's school, or to the local authorities (police/social services). Always try to contact your child's school first. This process causes less stress (for everyone involved) and allows for better protection of your child's welfare in the long run. All schools should have contingency plans aimed at preventing further harm from being inflicted. As well as this, if the problem worsens then the school has the power to contact local authorities on your behalf, so it's generally best to keep them involved whenever possible.
Only when you feel this option has been exhausted should you contact your local authorities independently. In either situation make sure you have strong evidence of cyberbullying beforehand. Encourage your child not to delete any of the harmful content as this is essential in proving your claims. Remember, cyberbullying is illegal, your school must maintain its responsibilities for the protection of your child. If you suspect that your child is being cyberbullied, contact their teacher or head teacher immediately.