Bullying/Cyberbullying and Your Child

Bullying impacts the lives of many children and families in Ireland. Bullying is a common enough word these days – but what does it actually mean? Although it is very common and can happen anywhere, we don’t always see or identify bullying soon enough. Bullying is repeated, negative behaviour carried out by an individual or group against others. It can be physical (such as hitting, kicking) or psychological (such as name calling, isolating, harassing). Bullying is an unacceptable behaviour, and should never be overlooked or ignored.

Bullying can happen in a variety of settings, and quite often occurs in situations where there is little or no adult supervision. While disagreements and challenges in interpersonal relationships are an inevitable part of life, instances of bullying can have a significant impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of children and young people. When people bully, they use their power to control or threaten others, this causes feelings of hurt, isolation and fear.

Children and youth have access to more technology than ever before. Social networking sites, smart phones and gaming consoles allow them to connect with others on a larger scale and on a more frequent basis. Cyberbullying refers to bullying that is carried out through the internet, mobile phone, or other technological devices. It can include sending abusive or threatening messages; posting offensive statements or pictures online; and other actions that threaten or upset others using technology. Cyberbullying is often anonymous and hard to control, as the person being bullied may not know who is doing it and, unlike other forms of bullying, can happen in the child’s home or other environments at any time.

As a parent, it is important to let your child know that anyone who bullies others is in the wrong. If a child experiences bullying, whether directly, as a bystander, or participates in bullying others, it is best to talk with a trusted adult.

Should your child talk with you about bullying, it is a good idea to carefully explore their feelings about what happened. You may wish to contact their school about your concerns, so that teachers can help monitor the situation.

The reasons as to why children bully can often be quite complex. This can include low self-esteem, acting out of frustration, poor communication skills, environmental factors, and media exposure. For some children, bullying may give some sense of control or power, when other aspects of their lives feel out of control. A child who bullies may have been previously bullied themselves, or have had other difficult life experiences. Despite their reasons for bullying, children and young people should be made aware that bullying is an unacceptable behaviour for which there are serious consequences.

For those being bullied, many may hide their feelings, particularly if they are afraid to talk about what they are experiencing. Young people might be reluctant to tell others about being bullied because they fear that the bullying may become worse if they tell or they may fear that adults will take away some of the things they enjoy, such as their mobile phone, or internet access. It is important parents and caregivers be attentive and aware of what children and youth are exposed to and the experiences they are having across all environmental settings. Some signs that your child might be experiencing bullying can include a sudden fear of going to school; inability to concentrate; withdrawn behaviour; low mood; loss of confidence and self-esteem; bedwetting; dishevelled appearance; and repeated signs of bruising and injuries.

Children who are being bullied and children who are bullying cannot tackle this problem alone and will require support and encouragement from the adults in their lives to resolve it. The first step is ensuring your child knows that you are there to listen and offer support.

Top Tips

  • Encourage Respect. During everyday life and on the internet, there are standards for how one should behave when interacting with other people. Speak with your child about the harm that can be caused by bullying and cyberbullying, ensuring that they understand the consequences for bullying. Encourage empathy and understanding of how it feels to be bullied (consider reading books, watching movies and open discussions). Teach and model kindness and respect for others. 
  • Parent involvement in child’s technology use: Parents need to actively monitor their children’s technology use. Be aware of what media platforms they use and what they typically use it for. Ensure that what they are exposed to and engaging in is age-appropriate. Ensure parental controls are enabled. All social media apps have age restrictions and these should be adhered to.
  • Manage your own emotions: Whether your child has been bullied or has been accused of bullying it is important to try to manage your own emotions and stay calm. For children accused of bullying, they often have difficulties with managing conflict, frustration or are struggling socially. For children who have been bullied, demonstrate understanding and empathy while listening to what they have to say. Assure them you are happy they came to you for support. Ensure your child does not feel “punished” for coming to you (for example losing access to their phone) and problem solve when everyone is calm. 
  • Keep your child informed: Openly discuss with your child what will happen next. They may become worried now that things are out in the open and fear that the situation may get worse, therefore they will need regular reassurance that the situation will be managed.
  • Liaise with school: Liaise with your child’s school to see if they have noticed any bullying there and share information with them. Work closely with the school to tackle the problem. Every school should have an anti-bullying policy to outline what steps will be taken in the event of bullying in school.
  • Link with your GP: If the bullying is of a serious nature, your child may need professional help. Seek advice from your GP, who will be able to sign-post you to the most appropriate support.

This article was written by Miranda Comar, Psychology Assistant with the Limerick Primary Care Child and Family Psychology Service.