How Would I Know If My Child Is A Cyberbully

Bullying by children and young people is not a new phenomenon, but the digital age has given rise to a new form of it. Cyberbullying is defined as deliberate, repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, mobile phones and electronic devices [1]. Nowadays, young people are using mobile phones, tablets and social media such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter to spread rumours and engage in cyberbullying [1]. By becoming actively involved and curious about a child’s digital life, parents and caregivers can remain vigilant for signs of cyberbullying and encourage them to take responsibility for their online actions [2].

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Signs your child may be engaging in cyberbullying

Without concrete evidence, it can be difficult to determine whether your child or teenager is bullying others online. Nonetheless, there are a number of behaviours that may signal a need to investigate further. In isolation, these signs do not conclusively point toward a cyberbullying issue. However, if these signs occur in combination or escalate, it could be cause for greater concern. We recommend holding an open dialogue with your child to explore these signs further, without fostering preconceived beliefs about their innocence or guilt.

#1 Secrecy about online activities

One of the key signals that your child might be involved in cyberbullying is secrecy about their online activities. Look for actions such as quickly changing screens or hiding their mobile device from your view.

#2 Befriending children who bully others

Studies show that bullying is often driven by a desire to fit in with peers or achieve a higher social status [1]. If your child joins a social group where cyberbullying is normalised or encouraged, they may feel pressure to engage in bullying to validate their inclusion in the new peer group or avoid ostracism [3].

#3 Changes in behaviour 

Slipping grades or disruptive behaviour at school, such as using forbidden digital devices during class, may be signs that your child is dedicating an unhealthy amount of energy to their online social life [5]. If you overhear your child insulting, name-calling, making snide remarks or laughing sarcastically while online or texting, treat this as a significant warning sign.

#4 Excessive nocturnal digital activity

If your child or teen regularly stays up late online while the rest of the family is asleep, this may be a cause for concern [3]. The likelihood of cyberbullying is further increased if your child owns an excessive number of social media accounts with more than one alias on each platform.

#5 Communication from the school or other parents

Other parents or teachers will inform you if there is likelihood your child has been involved in cyberbullying. It may be tempting to defend your child with the resolute belief that your child is innocent. Avoid preconceptions about who is to blame and remain calm. Talk openly with your child, coming from a place of empathy rather than making the conversation accusing or confronting. Explore the issue thoroughly from all sides to uncover an accurate understanding of what has occurred.

What can parents do if their child is a cyberbully?

Parents should champion a consistent policy that encourages young people to think critically about cyberbullying and help them understand why all forms of bullying are unacceptable. If you discover your child is a cyberbully, there are steps you can take to help them reverse this behaviour [4].

#1 Encourage empathy for others

Open a dialogue about the importance of considering others’ emotions before posting on social media or sending a message [7], and ask your child to reflect on how they would feel if they were a victim [4]. Keep in mind that your child may need help to understand the full impact of their actions on another’s welfare [1]. If your child has also been a victim of cyberbullying, it’s important to explain that this isn’t an excuse to perpetuate this hurtful behaviour.

#2 Set conditions and guidelines around technology use

If your child is engaging in cyberbullying, set clear guidelines for expected behaviour [7]. Reinforce that the use of digital media is a privilege, not a right [4]. It is unrealistic and undesirable to restrict all digital use indefinitely. Depending on the situation, you may wish to temporarily reduce or monitor your child’s mobile and Internet activity until the child consistently demonstrates responsible online behaviour [6]. Avoid anger or shaming your child or teen, as this may make them perceive the punishment as an injustice. Instead, discuss why the punishment is a legitimate response and encourage self-reflection

#3 Understand the motivations

In order for parents to help their child recover from cyberbullying behaviour, they must consider the motivations underpinning their actions. Discuss with your child or teen why they feel the need to behave in this manner [6, 3].  The distancing effect of digital devices may mislead some children into believing that bullying others online is less harmful than in-person bullying [1]. Reasons for cyberbullying can vary widely: as a way to relieve boredom, retaliate against a bully, or fit in with a particular social group [3]. If your child or teen is a cyberbullying victim, their behaviour may be an attempt to exact justice against their bully or to resolve unwanted feelings of helplessness [4].

Try to understand your child’s perspective on the situation without judgement. Consider how emotional stresses in their life, such as family or friendship tensions, may be contributing to this behaviour [7]. Help your child understand why cyberbullying is not an effective way to achieve their aims and seek alternative solutions together.

#4 Support their emotional wellbeing

Once your child understands the impact of their behaviour, they will likely feel a variety of negative emotions, ranging from shame, guilt and embarrassment to anger or confusion over how to make amends. It may be helpful to seek help from a counsellor or mental health professional to help your child process these emotions [6].

#5 Role model positive online behaviour

Lead by example by modelling compassionate interactions online [7]. Point out positive role models in society and use case studies of cyberbullying to reinforce why it’s important to behave responsibly on social media and mobile devices [1].

#6 Take a collaborative approach 

Throughout this process, encourage your child to adopt an active role in understanding more about the impacts of cyberbullying [2]. Solicit your child’s perspective to decide on an appropriate course of action to improve the situation [1].

Final thoughts

Online cyberbullying is a complex issue. Young people need parents to support them in making positive choices about how they treat others and conduct themselves both online and offline.

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  1. Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2018). Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center

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