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The Internet has changed the world over the last decades: It has democratized the access to information and it has basically changed our communication habits.

In their daily life and their professional activities, people more and more rely on Internet to get information, to socialize, to exchange all data or to buy goods and services. Due to the short-term and medium-term technical development, Internet and with Internet connected devices will become more and more important in every aspect of human life.

Children and youngsters, the so called digital natives, are growing up with digital media. They use information and communication technologies on a daily basis and the further development of mobile Internet and with Internet connected devices allow them to enjoy the large opportunities this offers everywhere they go. Children and youngsters are often more up to date about the newest technical possibilities, developments and trends in the area of digital media compared to their parents, teachers and carers.
However, as the most intensive users of the Internet, children and youngsters, due to their young age, their inexperience and their naivety, are also exposed to more risks and dangers of the Internet and information and communication technologies like grooming, sexting, or divulgation of personal information.

Another increasing risk and danger for children and youngsters as daily users of Internet and information and communication technologies is cyberbullying.
The different services of the (KJT) Kanner-Jugendtelefon: Kanner-Jugendtelefon, helpline for parents, Online Help and BEE SECURE Helpline are more and more contacted by kids, youngsters, parents, teachers and carers about the topic of cyberbullying. According to a study that was conducted in the BENELUX-countries (CYBERBULLYING IN THE BENELUX-COUNTRIES: First findings and ways to address the problem, Georges Steffgen, Heidi Vandebosch, Trijntje Völlink, Gie Deboutte & Francine Dehue, 2010) between 8 and 10,4% of students between 12 and 24 years old are victims of cyberbullying, 3,8 to 4,4% are victims of cyberbullying on a regular basis (at least once per month) and cyberbullying occurs more often outside than inside the school environment.

Bullying can be defined as the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. It can happen face-to-face or online and can take many forms, including physical violence, threats, mocking, name-calling, and saying unkind or untrue things.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online using internet-connected devices like desktop computers, laptops, gaming consoles, tablets and of course more and more smartphones. Cyberbullying can occur on social networking sites, in chats, on instant messenger apps or even on gaming sites. Sometimes cyberbullying can be worse for the victim than offline bullying due to the way the Internet works as a public space that can be accessed 24/7.

There are different forms of cyberbullying: flaming, harassment, denigration, impersonation, outing and trickery, exclusion, cyberstalking, cyber treats, publishing of private or embarrassing pictures online and many more.
As a parent how can I tell if my child is victim of cyberbullying?

Kids and youngsters that are victims of cyberbullying have often a lot of difficulties to talk about the problem. It takes time for them to realize that they are hurt. Sometimes they feel ashamed to seek for help. Moreover there could also be the fear that as a consequence parent will forbid them the use of the Internet.

There are different signs of cyberbullying that parents can look out for:
Physiological signs (lack of energy, problems sleeping, changing in eating habits, headache, stomach-ache, nausea, …) and behavioural signs (being protective about their internet-connected device, spending more time than usual online, becoming withdrawn, becoming aggressive at home, scared after being online or reading a text message, doing less well in school, being less willing to talk about daily activities, spending less time with friends, …)

As a parent what can I do if my child is victim of cyberbullying?
It takes a lot of courage for a person to admit that she or he is victim of cyberbullying and to actively seek for help in such a difficult situation even more for kids and youngsters, because they are often frightened that parents will make things worse by talking to the school or directly contacting the bully.
Encourage your child to talk about the situation:
For parents it is important to stay calm and to keep in mind that the child is now the priority and that the child needs now the parents’ help and support to get through that situation. Thank your child for taken the courage to actively seek help by talking to you, reassure the child that you as parents will be there to help them with their problems. Do not blame, punish or pressure the child.
Tell the child not to retaliate:
A bully is often looking for a reaction and therefore a child should never retaliate or answer to harassing messages. Parents should help their kids by showing them how they can block the bully online and how they can report content.
Keep a record:
It is important to gather information about the aggressor and the bullying. These information can be used later as evidence. Show your child how to take a screenshot, an easy way to keep a record of things happening online.
Seek help:
Sometimes children and even parents need to talk to third parties about the cyberbullying situation. Guidance and advice from a not involved professional can be very helpful in such a situation. Kids, youngsters, parents, teachers and carers can address the Online Help of the (KJT) Kanner-Jugendtelefon, a low threshold anonymous and confidential service.
Do not hesitate to contact law enforcement authorities:
In case of a very severe aggression like threats of violence, physical aggression, blackmail etc, parents should not hesitate to contact local law enforcement authorities to file a complaint.

As a parents what can I do if my child is a cyberbully?
Very often kids and youngster do not realize how much their behaviour is hurting their victims, so parents should calmly explain why their behaviour is unacceptable and not funny at all like they might think at first.
Parents should be careful to explain that it is the behaviour and not the child that is wrong and needs to change.
Moreover being an unacceptable behaviour, cyberbullying can also have real life criminal consequences.
Explore together with the child what has been happening, discuss the definitions and signs of cyberbullying, explore how your child would feel in the same situation, explain what you as a parent will do as a next step (like contacting the school for example), tell what you expect your child in the future to do and give the child time and space to ask questions why his or her behaviour and actions need to change.

As a parent what can I do to protect my child from cyberbullying?

  • Teach your child from an early age on to be careful about sharing private information online, so the child is less vulnerable
  • Make it clear that your child should not participate in any cyberbullying related activities, tell them that it is not funny and that they should be fair even online
  • Teach your child to use safe passwords to prevent compromised accounts on social networking sites.
  • Have an eye on the online activities of your child, stay up to date with what your child is doing online to recognize potential dangers online
  • Secure internet-connected devices