We can all conjure up a mental image of a “bully” – someone mean, troubled, and angry who takes out these feelings on others. You might imagine a person from your life or a character from a film or television show. But what happens when the “bully” in question is the child in your care?
This is a reality many parents and carers are facing, especially as cases of cyberbullying are rising. It can be embarrassing and heart-breaking to find out a young person in your care has engaged in bullying behaviour. The most important thing to remember is that a bully who is a child is still a child.
Our online safety experts have put together this guide to help parents, carers, and teachers make the best decisions when dealing with a child who is bullying their peers.
“You can’t get away. The bullies follow you into your house. You used to be able to keep your head down and let it pass, but now…you can’t.”
There are many forms of bullying, such as physical, verbal, or psychological harassment (which can all take on sexualised forms). However, cyberbullying is one of the fastest growing types of bullying, especially for children and young people whose online and offline lives converge daily.
Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. Unlike bullying offline, online bullying can follow the child wherever they go, via social networks, gaming, and mobile phone.
With over half of children and young people using social media sites or apps, it’s no wonder that 39% have experienced an act of cyberbullying (according to a recent study performed by Ditch the Label). This includes:
Threatening/abusive messages or comments
Private or embarrassing images being shared without consent
Exclusion from online chats, games, or activities
As we live in an increasingly digital world, children or young people may feel they cannot escape their bullies – or the temptation to bully others. It might feel easier to cyberbully a classmate behind the protection of a screen. It might not even feel like “real” bullying at all. This also makes it harder to spot bullying as it’s not happening in a physical space.
Why is my child being a bully?
It might be difficult to understand or accept why the child in your care is being a bully.As children and young people are still forming in their emotional intelligence, choosing to bully another person is often the easy path to getting something they want.Their reasons for bullying might be:
Fitting in with “cool kids”
Academic or family pressures
They are also being bullied
They do not understand they are bullying
There are also deeper psychological issues that may be the cause of a young person bullying, such as depression, anxiety, trauma, or behavioural disorders. If you believe this is the case, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.
Nothing justifies bullying behaviour. It is important not to make excuses for a child in your care, but to help them work through the root of the problem.
What can I do to help?
As a parent and carer, it is natural towant to be on your child’s side. This does not mean you need to deny what they are doing or defend them. The best thing you can do in this situation is to realise that your childhas a problem and needs your help.Here are some simple steps to help you help them:
Sit down with your child and calmly ask them what happened.Give them space to explain in their own time asit might be an emotional or embarrassing thing for them to discuss.Remind themthat you love them and are not there to judge, but to help.These conversations should happen more than once. It’s a good idea to continue checking in with how your child is progressing even after the issue is resolved.
Explain how their behaviour has been hurtful.Ask your child to think about how they would feel if someone they love was treatedthat way, or tothink of a time when they were bullied. Emphasize the hurt that this behaviour can cause others and reflect on why it must stop.
Be honest about your own behaviour. Think about how your actions (or those of other family members) might be affecting how your child is modelling their own actions. This might be things like shouting, teasing, or pressure to perform well in school and extracurricular activities.
Model a home environment where everyone is treated with kindness and respect.Shut down any mean-spirited teasing or banter, encourage helping each other, and teach appropriate manners.
Don’t tell them what to do – explain what not to do.You can discuss examples of respectful language versus bullying language, and “friendship behaviour” versus bullying behaviour.You can even utilise their favourite television shows or films as helpful examples.
Working together with your child’s school
After privately discussing this behaviour with your child, take some time to pause and reflect before taking any next steps. If possible and appropriate,facilitate a meeting with the other child involved and their parent or carer, involving your child’s teacher if necessary. They may have helpful insight into the situation and may be able to facilitate classroom intervention if the need arises.
Remember: bullying behaviour is not a reflection of who your child is as a person.They are still figuring out appropriate social skills, some of which do not always translate into online interaction. With the right support from adults who care, children who bully can and do change their behaviour.Helping your child learn to apologise and interact appropriately will teach them how to be responsible for their actions and will benefit their future.