How to prevent cyberbullying

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Bullying has been ‘part of the childhood experience’ for over 100 years. If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you were bullied as a kid, too. Your parents might have told you to say “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. Or they may have gone the “just ignore them and they’ll go away” route. 

But what do you do if your child can’t escape the bullying once they get home?

What exactly is bullying?

Bullying is about intent, repetition, and power. Bullies cause pain by repetitively and purposefully picking on other children, especially those who are weaker or less ‘popular’ than they are. Vulnerable children are more likely to get bullied, especially if they come from a low socioeconomic background or identify with a sexual orientation other than straight.

Below are some common examples of bullying:

  • Intentionally excluding someone (either offline or online)

  • Acting unpleasantly or maliciously towards someone

  • Spreading rumours 

  • Making fun of someone because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or disability 

  • Ignoring boundaries and continuing to tease them after they’ve expressed their discomfort

What bullying is not:

  • Natural consequences to actions 

  • Being rude or mean 

  • Having a conflict or a disagreement 

  • Respectful feedback or correction


Bullying isn't a unique in-person occurrence anymore. Cyberbullying has been around as long as the internet has. Much of the advice my parents gave when I first experienced cyberbullying was to ‘just log off’, and that was in 2010. While taking a social media break can do some good, it’s easier said than done. Technology is heavily integrated into kids’ lives, and it has been for some time now. The majority of their schoolwork is submitted online and any child with a phone probably has social media. 

Cyberbullying can occur over social media, SMS, email, or any platform kids use to connect or communicate. As a parent, you might not always be following what your child does on these platforms. If you’re unaware of what platforms they’re using or what their digital activity is like, it's difficult to tell whether they’re a victim of bullying or not. 

Sometimes it can be easy to spot, like a nasty comment on a post, or text that comes off as harsh or mean. Sometimes it’s less obvious. Creating group chats without your child, posting their information online, or sending around unflattering or hurtful photos. What makes it even worse is that bullies can create screen names or aliases. This makes it harder for authorities to track them down and punish them.

Teens and abuse online

A 2020 report conducted by the eSafety commissioner found that 44% of young Australians reported having a negative experience online in the last 6 months. This includes 15% who received threats or abuse online.  

Teens were likely to deal with the negative experience by blocking the person (54%), speaking to a family or friend (43%), or reporting it (40%). 

How it can affect your child

The effects of cyberbullying are much the same as bullying in person. It can cause long-lasting, severe mental and physical consequences, like stress, anxiety, and depression. Bullying can make your child feel guilty and confused, and as a result, they may further isolate themselves from their family and friends.

The signs

Your child might not directly tell you they’re being bullied online. It’s up to you to keep an eye out for any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour. These signs might vary from kid to kid, but can include:

  • Being secretive and defensive over their phone and digital life 
  • Avoiding school or group gatherings 
  • Refusing to talk about their day 
  • Changes in behaviour, appetite or sleep patterns
  • Spending more time than usual in their room 
  • Being upset or anxious after using their phone or the internet 
  • Avoiding discussions about their internet or phone use

What you can do

Communicate with your child every day. Ask questions about their school day, their friends, and observe their emotional state. Anxiety from bullying can result in changes to their behaviour, appetite, and sleep patterns. They might also become more closed off if they’re experiencing bullying online. 

Offer comfort and support. Let your child know they have a right to feel safe online and in the classroom. They have a support system of friends, parents, teachers, and school counsellors that can put an end to what’s causing them grief. 

Prompt them to take a social media detox. Victims of cyberbullying can’t resist the temptation to see what people are saying about them. Put limits on their phone and internet use and keep their phone in your room of a night. Prompt them to use their time away from technology to do things they enjoy, like going for a walk in the park or playing a board game with the rest of the family. 

Encourage your child not to respond. While it’s better said than done, especially if they’re inundated with nasty messages, responding will only make the situation worse. Encourage them to be the bigger person and block the bully (or bullies) on all platforms. 

Take screenshots. Bullying is a repeated occurrence. Encourage your child to keep screenshots and screen recordings of all messages, comments, and pictures sent by the bully or bullies. These can later be used as evidence once you take the situation to the school or even the police. 

Listen to your child. Through no fault of your own, your child could be reluctant to ask for your help in putting a stop to the bullying. They could anticipate retaliation from the bully or think reporting the situation will make it worse. Come to an agreement with your child and listen to their thoughts and feelings on the situation. 

Gauge how dangerous the situation is. Cyberbullying varies in severity. While having your phone flooded with nasty messages is distressing, try to determine if there is any threat to your child’s safety. Are they receiving death threats or threats of harm? Do you fear for their safety at school? If so, it’s time to contact the police. 

Notify the school. Most schools have rules against bullying. Contacting the school can bring the issue to the attention of teachers and counsellors who can offer support and put a stop to the bullying. A counsellor or mediator can help work through the issues with your child and the bully depending on the severity of the situation. 

Make sure your child knows it's not their fault. Bullying can bring on feelings of guilt, so your child must know they’re doing the right thing by talking about it. 

Consider monitoring their technology use. Certain apps and sites can track your child’s internet and technology usage. Apps like Qustodio are particularly useful because they provide your child’s call and text logs as well as the content of their texts. 

If you choose to use a parental control app or software, explain why it's important. While this might not be the best option if your child is nearing the end of their high school journey, it could be worth a look if they're starting to use the internet

Teach them about online safety. Personal safety online is important, especially as your child gets older. Ensure they know to never give away passwords and not to share personal information online. 

Final word

Cyberbullying can impact your child’s mental and physical health. Keep an eye out for any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour and take action before the situation gets too severe.

Hannah Geremia
Written by
Hannah Geremia
Hannah has had over six years of experience in researching, writing, and editing quality content. She loves gaming, dancing, and animals, and can usually be found under a weighted blanket with a cup of coffee and a book.

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