Concerned a child is being bullied online? Here’s what you should look out for…
Around one in five children aged 10-15 years in England and Wales (19%) experienced at least one type of online bullying behaviour in the year ending March 2020, equivalent to 764,000 children.*
That’s a shocking and yet sadly unsurprising statistic. The increased use of smartphones and social media means that bullies can follow their victim wherever they go, making it almost impossible to escape from harassment. Cyberbullying can range from posting nasty comments or shaming someone online to pressurising an individual into sending sexual images or urging someone to harm themselves.
Worryingly, it’s quite easy for a child to hide the fact that they’re being bullied online. There are telling signs you can look out for, such as behavioural changes that indicate something isn’t quite right.
- Nervous or agitated behaviour when they receive a text or notification.
This could be a sign that a child is receiving abusive, upsetting texts, comments or emails.
- Withdrawn from family and friends.
Bullies are experts at isolating their target from close family and friends. If a child is becoming increasingly withdrawn from their loved ones and friends, this is a strong indicator that something is wrong.
- Abruptly walking away from a laptop or screen mid-use.
Has a child suddenly slammed a laptop closed and rushed off looking upset? Or thrown their phone down mid-scroll?
- Stomach aches and headaches.
Is the child complaining of unexplainable aches and pains? Anxiety caused by bullying can make a person feel physically sick.
- Reluctance to go to school.
Is the child regularly missing school. They might feign illness or ask if they can come home in the middle of the day.
- Struggling to fall asleep at night.
Is the child more tired than usual. Bullying can have a change to a child’s sleeping pattern and they may be finding it difficult to get to sleep.
- Loss of interest in hobbies/interests.
Has the child lost interest in the things that used to bring them joy? This could be because their interest is the subject of the bullying and they want to distance themselves from it to give the bullies less ‘fodder’. Or, if they’re reluctant to go back to a club or sport team they previously enjoyed this could be because the bully will also be there.
- Unexplained weight gain or loss and changes to appetite.
Worry and anxiety can affect a child’s appetite.
- Upset or frustrated after using social media or gaming online.
Does your teen seem sad, frustrated or even angry after logging onto Insta or coming off COD?
- Voicing comments about suicide and suicidal thoughts.
Always take this seriously and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. If you think a child is in danger or have a ‘gut feeling’ that something is very wrong, get help immediately. Contact parents to take them to A&E if necessary, contact your local CAMHS crisis team or call Childline on 0800 11 11.
Get more help on supporting a teenager with suicidal thoughts here.
How To Help
It can be difficult to get a child to open up about bullying. They may be feeling scared, ashamed or embarrassed to talk honestly about what’s been going on. They may even feel as if they might get into trouble or will face negative consequences by speaking out. Try to talk to the child in a quiet, familiar place where they feel safe. Offer constant reassurance that you are there to support them and reinforce that you will do whatever you can to help.
If they still won’t open up, try not to take it personally. Suggest that they talk to a different family member about their worries or another trusted teacher in a bid to get them to speak out.
If you discover a child is the victim of cyberbullying, contact parents and tell the child not to engage with any vicious or unkind messages or posts – simply block, report and ignore. The National Bullying Helpline has a helpful guide on how to block individuals and report bullying across multiple social media platforms here.