What to do if your child is being bullied online

The devastating news that a 14-year-old girl committed suicide after being cyber-bullied struck fear into the hearts of many parents.

Amid concerns that our increasingly technology-oriented lifestyle is reducing young people's stores of compassion and empathy, it's understandable that many parents feel helpless.

But there are steps parents can take to either mitigate the effects of bullying on their children, or stop it before it starts.

Cyber-bullying

Bullying can have devastating consequences for families. Source: Getty

Be asked child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg for his advice to parents who worry about their child's emotional welfare in a world that often looks very different from the one they themselves grew up in.

"The key is to understand that bullying is serious," Michael told Be. "27 per cent of young people report they are bullied every two weeks or more often. Cyberbullying happens to about one in five young Australians every few weeks or more often."

And it's happening in the real world as well – not just online.

"Many young people who bully online also bully face to face," Michael says. "Bullying can seriously damage physical, social and emotional health."

Michael Carr-Gregg on cyber online bullying

Michael Carr-Gregg has practical advice for parents worried about their children and bullying. Source: Michael Carr-Gregg

And bullying is a losing game for everyone involved.

"Bullying hurts the perpetrator as well," Michael points out.

"Young people who bully over time are more likely to engage in ongoing anti-social behaviour and criminality, have issues with substance abuse, demonstrate low academic achievement and be involved in future child and spouse abuse. Some young people who are bullied later go on to engage in bullying others."

Michael has a range of suggestions for parents whose children are struggling with bullying.

1. Listen to your child’s story
Try to listen to the whole story without interrupting. Be empathic, calm and validate what your child says. Ask what your child would like to happen, before making suggestions.

2. Have a conversation about what happened
Try not to let your emotions get involved as it might deter your child from talking to you. You’ll help them more if you stay calm. Remind your child it’s normal to feel hurt, it’s never OK to be bullied, and it’s NOT their fault.

3. Make a record of events
Note all incidents of bullying, including what, when and where they occurred, who was involved and if anybody witnessed the incidents.

4. Work with your child’s school to and a solution
Find out if the school is aware of the bullying and whether anything has been done to address the situation. Check your school’s bullying policy. Make an appointment to speak to your child’s teacher or wellbeing coordinator. Follow up with another meeting to ensure the situation is being addressed. Remember, they are there to help.

5. Find other ways to support your child
Coach your child to use neutral language or, if appropriate, joking language in response, and explain that it is better to stay away from unsafe situations if possible. Don’t confront the person yourself. Encourage your child to get involved in extra-curricular activities suchas sports and hobbies where they can spend time with other young people.

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