What to do if your child is being cyberbullied

You think your child is being cyberbullied

If you think your child is being cyberbullied, you may experience a range of emotions. You’re not alone. Keep the lines of communication open, be alert to changes in your child’s behaviour, and be ready to support them and take action.

Warning signs to look for:

  • Changes in online habits

    • Your child begins to avoid or spends more time using their connected devices.
    • They become more secretive about their online activities.
    • They receive a lot of new texts, contacts, email addresses or phone numbers.
    • They suddenly delete their social networking profiles and accounts.
    • They block one or more numbers or email addresses from their online accounts or email.
  • Changes in behavior

    • Your child avoids conversations that have to do with their online time.
    • They avoid school, social situations, and activities with family and friends.
    • They begin falling behind in schoolwork or their grades go down.
  • Emotional, health and well-being changes

    • Your child appears sad, frustrated, impatient or angry much more than usual.
    • They appear upset, withdrawn or angry after receiving comments, emails, instant messages or texts.
    • They are having trouble sleeping or show less interest in eating.
    • In extreme cases, they self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.

What you can do:

Treat cyberbullying seriously while remaining calm. Your child is more likely to open up to you and accept help if you make it clear you are on their side and know what to do. You can take the following steps:

  • Talk with your child about cyberbullying

    • Understand that they may be reluctant to open up. They may feel uncomfortable, ashamed or afraid.
    • If they haven't come to you, try to bring up a story you heard about cyberbullying or ask them open-ended questions about what they may have seen or been worried about.
    • If they have come to you, listen calmly. Be your child's advocate without making the situation worse for them.
    • Learn about the extent of the bullying. It may be just a small incident that has already been handled, or it may be something more serious.
    • Make it clear that cyberbullying behaviour is not okay.
    • Reassure your child that they are not alone, that they are going to be okay, and that you are there to help.
    • Avoid blaming your child for being bullied or judging how they've handled things. You should help them feel safe and build up their self-confidence.
  • Break off contact with the cyberbully

    • Tell your child not to respond to or forward any of the cyberbullying messages.
    • Have your child block cyberbullies on social media and as contacts for email, text and phone.
    • If necessary, have your child change their email address and/or phone number.

Document the cyberbullying

Have your child show you all the offending emails, texts and phone messages, social media posts, images and videos, and instant messaging history. Record the dates and times of all incidents and save and print screenshots for reporting.

  • Report the cyberbullying to service providers and social media

    • Report cyberbullying to your Internet and/or mobile service providers. Most have 'acceptable use' policies in place and encourage reports of cyberbullying. If the bully has an account with the same company, and you can provide evidence of the bullying, they may issue a warning or even a suspension or termination of the bully's account if warnings are ignored.
    • Most social media sites have established policies and channels for cyberbullying and reporting abusive content, as well as other resources.
  • Report the cyberbullying to your child's school

    • Cyberbullying often happens between classmates and other students or it may occur on devices at school, which can disrupt the learning environment. Face-to-face bullying can be happening at the same time.
    • Learn who to report cyberbullying to at the school. If you know your child's teacher, you may want to approach them first, or you may want to go to the vice-principal or principal of the school.
    • Learn what steps the school and school board takes when cyberbullying is reported. Many school boards have a bullying policy too in place. Keep in mind that this isn't a problem the school is responsible for on its own.
  • Report the cyberbullying to law enforcement

    Do not hesitate to contact your local police authorities should the bullying involve any of these behaviours:

    • Making any threats of physical harm or violence.
    • Sending and sharing sexually explicit or intimate photos of someone under the age of 18.
    • Stalking a victim: where a bully is persistently following or communicating with your child in a harassing way that has them fearing for their safety.
    • Using someone else's identity or accounts to facilitate the bullying or harassment.

    Learn the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying.

  • Get help removing sexual images and videos from the internet

    You and your child can get help from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection in removing sexual images and videos from the Internet at NeedHelpNow.ca

  • Get support from a mental health professional

    Do not hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional if your child is showing signs of depression, isolation, anxiety, loss of interest in eating or sleeping, or has thoughts or shows any signs of self-harm.

What you should avoid doing:

Focus on supporting your child when deciding what action to take. To help them move past what can be a painful or embarrassing experience:

  • Do not ignore it and hope it goes away. It is important to recognize and respond appropriately to cyberbullying.
  • Do not blame your child for being cyberbullied. Even if something they did or said may have triggered the bullying, no child deserves to be bullied.
  • Do not criticize your child for not coming to you earlier or for how they handled things. Be supportive of their decision to come to you for help.
  • Do not tell your child to retaliate. This may make the situation worse and it tells your child that hurtful behaviour is okay.
  • Do not contact the parent of the child that is cyberbullying unless you already know them well. This often makes things worse. Let schools or other authorities help everyone come to a solution that helps all the children involved.

Take Action to Stop Cyberbullying

Take steps to address your child's actions by talking with them, monitoring their online behaviour, and ensuring they understand the seriousness of cyberbullying.

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