Talking to your children about bullying is important, even though it can be an upsetting, awkward and difficult subject for parents too. If you’re worried that your child is being bullied and they are reluctant to speak, then find a good time and place to raise it with them. You may also want to alert other family members and friends to your concerns so they can keep a watchful eye.
Whether they have come to you themselves or you’ve approached them, try to have an open and honest conversation with your child. Make sure they know they can talk to you if anyone ever upsets them, whether it’s face to face or over the internet or on their mobile phone. Give them the space to talk about anything that’s worrying them without being judgemental or getting upset.
If you find it hard communicating with your child about bullying, you’re not alone. These tips are a good place to start:
Ask obvious questions
Start conversations with open, honest questions about what’s been happening and in the case of cyberbullying what they’ve been doing online and who they’ve had messages from.
Listen without judging
Your child might worry that you’ll think they’re weak or will be angry at them or that you might want to talk to the person and make it worse for them. Be sensitive to their feelings and reassure them that it’s not their fault. Get all the facts first so you can assess the situation. Be careful not to show any anger you might be feeling. Keep calm, try not to interrupt and ask them to tell you about what’s happening in their own words.
Tell them you can help
Tell your child that you’re there to support them, and that there are things that can be done to help them so they don’t feel powerless. Develop an action plan together rather than just jumping in and contacting the people involved. Let them know the things that you’re considering doing and what you expect the outcome to be as some children may be worried about the consequences of you getting involved. Let them know that they’ve done the right thing. It’s very hard for children to talk about being bullied.
Tell them not to retaliate
Encourage them not to react to the bully by ignoring their comments and not becoming engaged in a physical fight. The bully needs to know it’s their behaviour that’s unacceptable. Get them to confide in their friends and travel to and from school with groups rather than alone.
With cyberbullying, ask them not to reply to attempts by a cyberbully to contact them as getting a reaction is what the bully wants. Tell them to delete messages from the bully without reading them. If however the problem is escalating consider saving the messages, perhaps by taking a screen shot as evidence before deleting.
Don’t remove access to technology
It may be your first instinct as a parent to simply take away the device they’re using, but young people can then become reluctant to talk about further instances of bullying once you return the device. The device may also keep them connected with friends and families that may also be able to give them vital support and advice. Taking away the device may also make them feel even more isolated.
If your child is upset by something an individual is saying about them in person or online, you might want to talk about whether the situation is something that they would like to try and resolve themselves. It may be possible for your child to talk to the person that has upset them face to face to explain how it made them feel.
Speak to their teachers
All schools in the UK have a legal duty to prevent bullying and take it seriously, so talk to yours if you feel it’s necessary and make sure they are at least aware of the situation. If you do report to school it helps to have evidence of your concerns so that the school can address the issue properly.
Speak to the parents
If your child is being bullied by someone they know, you could talk to the parents and work together to resolve it. Be very cautious in your approach if you decide to do this. Don’t confront or blame them, listen to their views and try to come up with an action plan for all involved.
Tell the authorities
In serious cases of bullying – both face to face and online, laws may apply (for example if your child has been threatened or encouraged to self-harm). If you think a crime has been committed or believe your child is in danger, contact the police.
When it comes to cyberbullying there are other things you can do to help the situation:
Moderate their usage
Don’t deny them access to technology but get them to moderate their usage and stay off sites or online games through which they’ve been bulled for a while. The online world moves rapidly so the bully may lose interest.
Keep a record
If bullying continues, keep the messages and take screenshots as evidence of what’s happening.
Report it and block the bully
If content has been posted to a website or social network that is upsetting your child, contact the website. Each site has its own way of reporting cyberbullying. Follow these links to report cyberbullying on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat and use their tools to block out the bullies.
Players can also report and block others in online gaming environments. Most online games have reporting tools you can use to flag behaviour that violates the site’s terms of service.
All UK mobile phone providers have malicious or nuisance call, text or picture message centres set up and have procedures in place to deal with such instances. Contact your child’s provider and they can also help you to change the number of the person being bullied if necessary. In extreme cases the police can work with them to trace the calls or messages.
What should I do if my child doesn’t want me to intervene?
If your child doesn’t want you to get involved, then you should support them in trying to resolve it themselves. However, you should continue to monitor the situation closely and step in if things don’t get any better.
Build an action plan together, encourage them not to retaliate and ignore the bully. Make sure they know how to block and report any instances of online bullying and get them to confide in and seek out the support of their friends. In some cases a child’s friends can be more effective in helping to prevent and stop bullying than you or the school could be.
Internet Matters is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which aims to help parents keep their children safe online.