What is cyberbullying? If your daughter has a mobile phone, a games console, uses social networking sites, instant messenger programs, or simply has her own email address, then she may well be a witness to online bullying. Worse, she may become the target of a cyberbully herself. This might mean she receives abusive emails, texts or comments on her Facebook wall – or even that modified images or videos of her are circulated online without her knowledge or consent.
“What makes cyberbullying particularly tough is that your daughter can’t escape it,” says Liz Watson, head of BeatBullying, the UK’s leading bullying prevention charity. “With traditional bullying, when she gets home it stops, but with cyberbullying it carries on, even in her bedroom.”
Cyberbullying is on the rise. Since January 2009, the UK charity Family Lives reports that it has seen calls to its bullying helpline increase by 13%, while calls specifically about cyberbullying have soared by 77%. Appearance is a common target for cyberbullying attacks – and girls experience it twice as much as boys, according to The Protection of Children Online: a Brief Scoping Review to Identify Vulnerable Groups published by the UK Department for Education.
“A lot of young people think it’s OK to make negative comments about the way people look,” says Watson. “After all, they do it all the time with celebrities in those “what is she wearing?” magazine articles.”
It’s also easier to use appearance as a target, as many forms of cyberbullying are based on visual imagery. This makes it easier to bring up the subject of how your clothes, hair and body look in the pictures and videos you’ve posted online.
But being the target of persistent teasing about an aspect of their appearance can have a real and detrimental impact on a girl’s self-esteem. If this starts to impact your daughter’s life choices – from the clothes she wears to the pictures she’s willing to share online – then it’s time to take action.
Talk with your daughter about the situation, decide clear actions to resolve the problem together and help her develop online behavior that can protect her from the impact of cyberbullies in the future. Much of her life will be conducted online or via her mobile phone so burying your (or her) head in the sand is not an option. Developing protective strategies now to deal with online criticism or bullying will be an important skill for lifelong self-esteem.
Use the checklist we’ve put together to help understand the issues, support your daughter and take action to stop cyberbullying in its tracks.
A cyber bully can use the cloak of anonymity that’s possible online to indulge in particularly cruel forms of bullying including:
“Am I Pretty?” videos: girls who are being bullied or feel incredibly insecure about their looks sometimes post “Am I Pretty or Ugly?” pictures or videos online, with desperately sad messages saying things like “People keep telling me I’m ugly and I want to know – am I really?” The comments that follow these videos are often incredibly hurtful and damaging to the person posting them and may create their own trail of cyber bullying.
Trolling: A ‘troll’ is someone who upsets people online, being as outrageous and provocative as possible. Some teenagers have been hounded relentlessly by trolls – almost certainly other teenagers – who taunt them mercilessly about sensitive issues such as their looks, and may repeatedly tell them how hated they are.
Parasite porn: where suggestive or sexual images and videos posted by young people on social networking sites are lifted and uploaded onto other, more public websites.
• Cyber bullying is very common – research [http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/bullying-statistics.html] shows more than half of teenagers have experienced it. As with face-to-face bullying, it’s humiliating for victims, and most don’t tell their parents when it happens. Try to reduce the risk of this happening in your house by opening the conversation on cyber bullying; be clear with your daughter about what it is, why it’s wrong, and encourage her to talk to you if she feels it’s happening to her, or suspects it’s happening to others she knows
• As with all cyber threats, you can reduce the risk by ensuring your child has a life that’s offline as well as connecting online. So insist that she unplugs from social media at family times such as mealtimes; this will give her some respite from any difficulties she’s facing. And be a good role model; don’t be over-dependent on your own digital devices, and switch off your mobile at mealtimes, too.
• Encourage your daughter to invite girls she’s friendly with to your house. You want her to have as many positive real-life experiences as possible to put any negative virtual communication into its proper perspective.
• Teach her the importance of trusting her feelings and instincts with situations that might be a danger to her – if something is being said to her online that makes her feel uncomfortable, she feels that way for a reason and should talk to you about it so that you can help to understand whether or not it may be inappropriate.
• Read our article ‘Staying Safe Online: Safe Social Networking Tips for You and Your Daughter’ [internal link to article once published] and get to grips with what goes on with social media platforms so you can try to be aware of cyber bullying or anything negative before it happens.
Family Lives concern at cyber-bullying increase
The Protection of Children Online: a Brief Scoping Review to Identify Vulnerable Groups
UK Safer Internet Centre: parent advice and resources
NSPCC statistics on bullying
NSPCC bullying resources
Lisa Lister Founder of Sassyology.com, an online publication focusing on the empowerment of women and female body issues
Article date: 26 June 2013
Review date: 26 June 2014
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