Hi, this is Susan McLean, and today I’ll be talking to you about cyberbullying. Cyberbullying has been around for a long time. In fact, I took my first report of cyberbullying in 1994. It has changed over the years. And certainly, we know that as the uptake of technology has increased, especially amongst children, that they are, of course, the primary vulnerable population. So what is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying is when people are repeatedly mean, nasty, horrible, harassing or threatening to each other using technology.
Any app, game, site or platform that can be used to communicate can be used to cyberbully. And although it’s perceived as something only applicable to children, we certainly know that adults are being cyberbullied. Cyberbullying is a criminal offence in every state and territory in Australia. And in one of the following videos, I’ll be talking through the legislation relevant to each particular state and territory. So what might cyberbullying look like? We know that it can be nasty, offensive or humiliating text messages.
It can be humiliating pictures and videos. It can be abusive and threatening comments made to social media. But what we know, it’s particularly hurtful and harmful. Cyberbullying is public humiliation. It is not someone making one nasty comment to you at the lockers that no one else can hear. And once it’s posted, it stays there forever. I remember speaking to a mum recently whose daughter was being harassed online. The mum said to me, it’s not the seven videos he made and uploaded to embarrass my daughter.
It’s the thirty thousand people that have viewed those videos. Cyberbullying is a societal issue. It’s a social problem. And most cyberbullying has its origins in face to face bullying. We know that the majority of young people who are cyberbullied are actually bullied by that person in real life.
If your child comes to you and tells you that they’ve been cyberbullied or you suspected, please praise them. One of the biggest barriers we have for young people receiving help is that they have a reluctance to tell. Many young people won’t tell a parent or a teacher if they’re bullied online for fear of losing access to technology, often not wanting to upset the parent.
Make sure that you asked to see the evidence, asked to see where it happened, how it happened. Is there a copy of it? You can help your child with technical solutions, such as reporting the abuse to the site and then blocking that person. Do not ever respond to abuse online. It’s a fight that you won’t win and it only makes it worse. Make sure you gather up all the evidence and head to the school. We know most of these cyberbullying involving students is peer to peer.
Schools must have policy surrounding bullying and cyberbullying, and they are legally obligated to deal with all forms of bullying, including cyberbullying involving their students when it’s reported to them.
Make that appointment, speak to the school, hand over the evidence that you have, and then let them deal with it as per their normal policies. For a school please remember that you do have to investigate cyberbullying to the best of your ability. It has to come within any policy and procedures that you have. Reassure the student that you will act. Regularly check back on them because we do know that often the bullying doesn’t stop, but because the child has told just once they don’t always come back to you.
Should you involve the police in cyberbullying? Well, cyberbullying is a crime, as I’ve mentioned, and most cyberbullying involving students does not require police involvement. But there are three times when I advocate for law enforcement involvement.
That’s one, when you’ve informed the school or perhaps a sporting club or workplace if it’s emanating from those places, and despite their best efforts, it hasn’t stopped. Number two, when you don’t know who the offender is because we do know that a lot of cyberbullying is through fake accounts.
So people set up an account in a fake name thinking they can’t be traced. And of course, when police are involved in these investigations, they can get that information.
And thirdly, when threats have been made to your child’s personal and physical safety, those are the three reasons that police should be involved. It’s not a case of do I go to the police or do I tell the school? It’s always school first and then police if necessary. Please do not ever contact the offending student’s family directly because that usually ends in disaster. Leave it to the school. They have the procedures in place to deal with this.
We are very lucky in Australia to have the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and in a future video, I’ll be talking extensively about that office and what it does. But one of the roles it has is to remove serious cyberbullying involving Australian children under the age of 18 years.
So if you have reported cyberbullying to a social media site and that social media site has failed to remove the content, you can put a second report into the office of the eSafety commissioner and they can assist in having that content removed.
Remember that cyberbullying is a crime. It is also harmful and hurtful. We know it leads to enormous psychological distress. Be on the lookout for changes in your child’s behaviour. Children that were outgoing and suddenly become withdrawn, children that used to like to go to school, that no longer want to go to school, and phantom illnesses that arise just before school time, such as headaches and tummy upsets. It may be that they have the latest virus going around, but it also may be that they are being bullied online.
You are the gatekeepers to your child’s online world. Be an active participant in their life. Know what they’re doing. Know who they’re doing it with. And make sure that they know no matter what, they can come and tell you about it.