Online bullying can happen to anyone, and unfortunately, it’s becoming more common thanks to remote learning and the prevalence of social media. Cyberbullying can take many forms, such as sending hurtful messages, spreading rumours or posting false or sensitive information about a person. But the ultimate goal is to embarrass or degrade the victim, and the effects can be devastating.
We asked the experts at ESET about how to respond to cyberbullying as a parent. Here, they share their 5 top tips for keeping kids safe online.
#1 Encourage open communication with your child
When it comes to cyberbullying, prevention is better than cure, and that starts with having conversations about it with your kid. Since cyberbullying is tied to fear, kids often don’t tell anyone they’re being bullied online. They might think that tattling will get them in trouble or make the bullying worse, or they might be worried their devices will be confiscated.
As a parent, it’s important to sit down with your child and explain how to identify cyberbullying and what to do if they’re a target. The goal of this conversation is to reiterate that nobody deserves to be bullied, and that help is available. For example, they should leave a conversation if someone is being mean, rude or offensive, and report the person to you or their teacher. Make sure they know that adults don’t tolerate cyberbullying on social media or elsewhere, and the bully won’t get away with it as long as they’re honest with you.
Top tip: If you find out your child has been the victim of cyberbullying, try to sign them up for a support group for kids in a similar position — the school should be able to point you in the right direction. It’s also a good idea for your child to spend less time online and focus on “real world” activities, like sports and in-person playdates.
#2 Block the bully
Bullies thrive on the reactions they get from their targets, and they can be relentless. As tempting as it might be for your child to respond, our advice for cyberbullying is to teach them not to reply to any messages. Instead, they should disengage right away and bring the bully to your attention so you can help to block them.
The best way to block a bully from contacting your child depends on the platform where the bullying is taking place, which could be social media, text or email. But generally, you can do it by clicking on the bully’s profile page and navigating to “settings.”
#3 Keep any and all evidence of bullying
To build a case against a cyberbully, you’ll need to provide proof. Once your child identifies that they’re a victim, ask them to show you the conversation, email, text, social media post or video in question. Then, take screenshots or download those materials so you have a printed or virtual copy handy.
It’s important to save the evidence before reporting the bully, as you don’t want to give them a chance to delete it and wipe their slate clean.
#4 Report the incident
That brings us to the next step: reporting the bully to the appropriate authorities. In most cases, this will be your child’s principal. They will investigate the case and take action based on the school’s protocol, which might include suspending the bully or issuing them a warning. In more serious cases, you can report cyberbullies to the police or file a complaint with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner.
Finally, report the incident to the site, system or network where the bullying occured. The platform may deactivate the user’s account or suspend them for a specified period of time.
#5 Install antivirus software on at-home devices
Some children hand over personal information to bullies, consciously or not. To help with cyber safety for kids and protect their data, it’s worth investing in sophisticated antivirus software and installing it on all computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones they use.
That way, if your child does reply to a bully or opens up your network to hackers in any way, the software will kick in to help. Though you can download free software online, a subscription version like ESET Internet Security or ESET Mobile Security is a better bet, especially if your kids are using the internet on their own. These programs offer a multilayered defense against a range of cyber threats. They stop your children from accessing harmful or offensive content online, and prevent hackers from accessing your system, router or webcam. They also scan attachments and images for viruses, which is handy if cyberbullies use email, text or online messaging services to communicate.
Step in to stop cyberbullies
Our kids are behind their screens now more than ever, but luckily, there are a few things you can do to stop cyberbullies in their tracks and protect children online.
To learn more about internet safety for kids and teens, check out ESET’s Safer Kids Online Initiative and get in touch with the team if you have questions.