How to keep your children safe from cyber-bullies

Rob Waugh
Most children will experience or witness some form of cyber-bullying – but there are ways parents can help. (Image: Fotolia)

The growth of smartphones and tablets has meant that more people have access to the internet than ever - but for children, that increased communication is not always good news.

Most children will experience or witness some form of cyber-bullying – and it is no longer just unpleasant emails, texts and Facebook messages.

Bullies create fake Facebook profiles to ridicule their victims - or even Facebook groups and websites purpose-built to attack their victims.

Bullies also steal personal information and share it with others.

[Related: Tips to keep your children safe on the internet]

Parents and teachers can help, though - offering advice, and controlling the amount of personal information a child shares openly on the web.

Responsible use of online technology, particularly for children, will come into focus once more on Tuesday, February 5, which is the tenth Safer Internet Day.

In November last year, Facebook created a Step Up Stop Bullying campaign which currently has more than 8,000 UK members.

In January this year, Lady Gaga also announced an anti-bullying bus would accompany her on tour, highlighting how much of an issue traditional and cyber-bullying has become.

BeatBullying is a government endorsed charity which highlights the risk of ‘fake’ user profiles which insult children.

Its site has teaching aids to prevent cyber-bullying for different age groups and offers a team of ‘cyber-mentors’ to help victims of offensive emails, Facebook messages or similar text message which could cause upset and distress.

“Your child may not know "cyber-bullying" by name but he or she knows what it looks and feels like,” says Marian Merritt, Norton’s Internet Safety Advocate.

Here are some of Marian’s top tips on what to do if you, your child, or someone you know is being cyber-bullied:

1. Keep records

Make your child or friend aware that cyber-bullying is incredibly common. Make sure they know how to react when it does occur.

They should not respond to any email or message that contains the cyber-bullying. They should try to save or print it so they can show someone and they should block it if they know how. Most importantly, they should always tell a parent.

2. Make sure your children communicate with you

Make sure your children know they must guard even the most casual text message and watch their own written words. They should always tell you if and when they are being cyber-bullied.

3. Make yourself available to talk

Experiencing something bad is almost inevitable when active on the Internet. Make sure your child knows they can come to you for help and that you won’t overreact.

4. Don't respond to bullies

If you or your child is being cyber-bullied: don’t respond to the person posting messages. A response gives the bully or bullies the reaction they seek. Silence will confuse them. If your child gets asked "did you see that post or message?" teach them to say they didn’t, or even say, "My mum was working on my computer last night. Maybe she saw it".

5. Ensure your child doesn't become a bully

Wherever we have an online bully and a target, we have silent observers who witness the harassment and give it more power by providing an audience.

Make sure your child never engages in cyber-bullying even if all they are asked to do is visit a site, open an email, pass along a cruel message, or add their comments to a social networking page. Give your child the training to respond to a victim with kindness, support, and friendship.

The tenth annual Safer Internet Day is organised by Insafe and co-funded by the European Union.