What if my child is bullying others online?

Much has been written about bullying and cyberbullying specifically and yet while many of us are familiar with the concept of bullying, we seem to lack a shared understanding of what bullying behaviour ‘looks and feels’ like, especially in the context of online bullying. 

Cyberbullying refers to the act of using technologies such as smartphones, computers, tablets and cameras in order to ‘hurt their peers socially, psychologically or even physically.’ [eSafety Office. 2018]. While adults use the term cyberbullying, teens will often refer to these incidents as ‘digital dramas’ or just ‘dramas.’

What is known is that bullying behaviour is not always the same as mean behaviour; in order to be considered bullying, the behaviour has to be repeated and intentionally harmful in nature and that those who bully others have been bullied themselves.

This becomes more confronting for parents who learn that their child is being mean to others, lacks empathy and is targeting or excluding a specific child or group. These behaviours may indicate bullying tendencies or behaviours with a strong likelihood that if they socialise online they maybe bullying a person or group online too. 

It could also mean that they have been caught up in behaviour encouraged by peers. If however, they initiate the bullying incidents and keep doing it experts believe that they need interventions from parents or their school as well as support themselves.

So, why do children bully?

 More often than not, children who participate in bullying behaviours are experiencing issues in their own lives. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, “bullying arises from the complexity of children’s relationships with family members, peers, and the school community and culture. Families, especially, play an important role in bullying behaviours”. 

Kids who bully others online may very well bully offline as well, but technology and the Internet make it possible for kids to act on mean impulses with less risk of being caught. This effectively lowers the stakes for those who might hold a grudge against a peer, or who want to experiment with offensive language. It can, therefore, take less to provoke a kid online than it would in an offline context. 

Public Safety Canada has identified some of the reasons why kids cyberbully others:

  • Cyberbullying is often a way to relieve boredom. Kids experience it as a way to inject excitement and drama into their lives, and it becomes a form of entertainment.
  • Cyberbullying can give a sense of power and status to those doing it. Having an audience, especially those who laugh at the bullying, gives that person a feeling of control and importance.
  • Many who get involved in cyberbullying give in to peer pressure. They want to fit in or not be seen as the odd one out or uncool. Groups spur each other on.
  • Some really don’t see that they’re doing anything wrong. They see it as just a harmless joke, especially when they have the sense that everyone does it.
  • Some who bully others believe the victim deserves it. 
  • If a kid has been a victim of cyberbullying, they may begin bullying themselves to act out their sense of helplessness and to get back at others.
  • Online, there’s a sense of invincibility. Kids believe they won’t get caught and many aggressors use anonymous identities to avoid detection. It’s one of the reasons why cyberbullying can continue so long and be so relentless. It also means the child never sees the pain of the victim, which makes it harder to have empathy and far easier to continue

Tips For Parents

  • Teach your child effective conflict management skills so they can handle disagreements or upsetting situations with their peers effectively
  • Remind your child that, just because they cannot see the person’s face, there is a living breathing human being on the other side of every on-screen interaction 
  • Help your child to develop empathy and resilience 
  • Explain that, even if they aren’t the one who uploaded an embarrassing photo or made a mean status about someone, if they like or share it then they are being a bully by making the situation worse for the victim
  • Talk about how it feels to be left out or teased in a manner that they can relate to

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