Cyberbullying and digital safety
We will have different views of how early children should start engaging with a digital life, but for many children this is happening at a younger and younger age. While there are many wonderful opportunities that tech brings, there are challenges, and we need to know how to keep children safe.
Cyberbullying is any bullying behaviour by electronic means. It typically includes intentionally causing someone or a group of people harm by sharing/posting unkind or offensive comments, sharing private information to shame or ridicule, impersonating others and promoting rumours or fake news about others. For younger people the perpetrators are usually people that they know (e.g. from school or the community) and quite often it is a continuation of bullying behaviour that is happening during the school day. Anyone can be a target of cyberbullying and when you are going through it in can feel very hard to escape from.
If you are experiencing or have experienced cyberbullying or trolling it's important to remember....
- you are not alone. This has happened to most of us at one time or another.
- every platform will have an option to report or flag offensive content. You may also be able to unfriend or follow, mute or block the perpetrator.
- it can be helpful to take some time out. You may feel like compulsively checking any updates or notifications but this will make you feel worse. Don't feed the troll. Stop responding and it's likely they will lose interest.
- it's usually best not to respond. Again, trolls love a good feed so give them nothing.
- instead, reach out to a friend or family member for a word of support and validation. Remember you are loved.
- if you have messed up in some way and hurt someone else, say sorry. Delete any unkind posts, make amends and remember to take a deep breath before posting!
Keeping it private
Although there are age restrictions on many social media platforms, children and young people may not always adhere to these. There are also risks for any of us whether a child or adult in having a social media profile. If we don't have the right privacy settings applied (or these are not available) our private information may be available to many, many people.
This information can potentially include:
- personal contact details;
- photographs or videos of ourselves and our friends;
- the names and addresses of the schools and clubs they attend;
- exact locations at any given time through the use of location tagging features.
Due to the lack of face-to-face communication online, there is a tendency for the offline world to be referred to as the 'real world'. This may lead to people acting with less caution when using the internet. Behaviour can include:
- involvement in visible, public arguments;
- sharing opinions that can be interpreted as offensive or aggressive;
- participation in bullying and trolling
The collective history of this activity is often referred to as a digital footprint. Even if your child uses privacy settings on social media platforms, they may not be able to stop their connections from passing the content they post on to others.
If their activity is offensive, they may find themselves in trouble with peers, the school or even the police. Universities and employers have been known to check the online profiles of applications, so negative activity can also affect a young person's educational and professional opportunities later on in life. It is therefore extremely important that young people understand that the online world is the real world, with very real consequences.
Grooming and sexual abuse
Online grooming is when someone befriends a child with the intent to prepare them for sexual abuse. It is not a one off event but a process of engaging with them, tapping into their hobbies and vulnerabilities and building a falsely perceived connection.
Social media, interactive gaming and chat rooms can be the first point of contact. Abusers are able to hide behind false online identities and talk to young people with greater ease, out of the direct observation of others.
If you have concerns about inappropriate communications that your child has received you should report this on the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre website.
Exposure to pornographic or violent material
Inappropriate content doesn't have to be intentionally sourced. Often children will stumble across it by chance; disguised under seemingly innocent URLs, attachments, or even circulated on leading social media sites. The most concerning material includes:
- extreme or abusive pornography;
- excessive violence or explicit physical attacks;
- hateful material expressing racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic opinion;
- harmful advice encouraging eating disorders, self-harm or suicide.
For further advice and guidance on keeping children safe online, visit Internet Matters.