How can we protect our children from cyber bullying?

By Jenny Holt

Most young people between the ages of nine and sixteen in Ireland are regular Internet users.  Around 99 per cent of them log on every day, and many become victimised by cyberbullies through their social networking accounts. According to a survey conducted as part of Safer Internet Day, kids in Ireland are more likely to experience bullying than in the 25 other countries surveyed.

What’s more, according to the “Growing Up in Ireland” study, over 24 per cent of children aged 9 to 18 have been bullied online. The rates are slightly higher amongst girls where one in six girls are affected. In comparison, one in four boys have experienced similar harassment.

Here we discuss ways that cyber bullying has negatively impacted the children and teens of Ireland, and how parents can help.

Victims of cyber bullying

In Ireland, there is no shortage of cyber bullying victims.  Kids who are victimised by bullies report hurt feelings, anxiety, and depression. In extreme cases, some have suicidal thoughts and even act on them.

Some well-known cases in Ireland of cyber bullying going entirely too far include the suicides of 12-year-old Lara Burns, 13-year old Erin Gallagher, and 15-year old Ciara Pugsley.  All of these deaths happened in 2012, and in each case, the girls were bullied online and believed to have committed suicide to escape the taunts of their peers.

Often, the families or parents of the victims of cyber bullying have no idea that it’s happening, making it difficult to help a child or teen in need.

How Parents Can Help

It’s not always easy to know if your children are being bullied.  Statistically, only 29 per cent of parents know that their children are being harassed online, and 68 per cent have no idea it’s happening.  The first key to being able to help is to be an aware parent.  Work to foster open communication with your kids, and keep an eye out for changes in mood and behaviour that could be a result of cyber bullying.

If your child does come to you to ask for help and talk about cyber bullying, it’s imperative to be nonjudgmental and not to react impulsively. It’s in everyone’s nature to want to protect their children, but often what they need most is someone to listen and empathise with how they’re feeling.

Beyond being someone to talk to, parents can also help their children to document the incident, change their privacy settings and block the bully online, and if necessary report the harassment. In some cases, the bullying may be illegal and require appropriate legal action and reporting to the authorities or school administrators. 

The top priority is to help your child feel safe and to regain their confidence and self-esteem that may have been compromised as a result of being bullied.

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