More than half of all Australia’s young people have experienced cyberbullying – that’s bullying using the web, smartphones or social media – and parents are being urged to become more aware.
The shocking figure – 53% of all young people – was part of a set of statistics released this week by Headspace, the national youth mental health foundation. Their 2018 survey also reveals that for most young people who suffer “high to very high psychological distress” (70%), cyberbullying has played a role.
“These findings are deeply concerning and highlight the serious impact cyberbullying can have on a young person’s mental health”, said Jason Trethowan, Headspace CEO. “Social media has become a big part of life for young people and we’re encouraging parents to be aware of its impacts and what to look out for when it comes to cyberbullying so support can be provided.”
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Parents and guardians are encouraged to keep an eye out for warning signs, and to gently encourage their child or teen to talk.
“Quite often a young person might be unwilling to open up and tell a parent or teacher about what’s going on, for fear of the situation getting worse,” said Nick Duigan, the senior clinical advisor at Headspace.
“We encourage anyone looking after a young person to get informed about how to support them to use the internet safely, and also to notice any changes in behaviour and try to open up a dialogue and understand what might be happening.”
The Warning Signs and How To Respond
If a young person is suffering from cyberbullying, they may:
- Appear upset after using the internet or a mobile phone
- Show signs of low moods, loneliness or distress
- Start falling behind in their school work
Headspace advises parents and guardians to follow these six steps when talking to their young person about cyberbullying:
“Encourage your young person to do things they enjoy to keep a healthy headspace.”
- Listen calmly to what your young person wants to say, and don’t “react”. This will help them comfortable to share the full story.
- Reassure them it’s not their fault, and ask open, empathetic questions to find out as many details as you can.
- Ask your young person what they want to do, and how they want you to help.
- Discuss with them some sensible strategies to respond to the bullying.
- Contact your child’s school about the issue and stay in touch with them.
- Check in regularly with your child, teen or young person to see how they are going.
Strategies to Suggest to Your Young Person
For parents whose children have been affected by cyberbullying, Headspace’s advice is to encourage their child or young person to:
- Avoid reacting or responding to the bullying
- Block and report anyone who is bullying online
- Protect themselves with privacy settings
- Keep records of bullying incidents
- Do things they enjoy to keep a healthy headspace, such as spending time with friends, playing sport, or listening to music
Extra Encouragement for Parents
While schools can support teens and parents through a bullying scenario, parents still have the biggest role to play in their child’s life. Headspace gives parents the following advice:
- Build communication and trust with your child or teen, make time to listen without interruptions, show understanding for their perspective, and teach them about negotiation and boundaries.
- Share with other parents. Use forums or support groups to talk to parents and teachers, collaborate with other parents about shared boundaries where possible, and find out how other parents set social media boundaries.
- Set a good example of healthy social media use. Have a sensible online presence and be willing to change your habits if necessary.
- Don’t overreact or inflame the issue with the school or other parents. Communicate calmly and fairly, directly with the person involved, and if needed ask for someone with skills in mediation to help.
- Be persistent. If your first attempt to talk to your young person about cyberbullying issues fail, or feel awkward, don’t give up. For practical tips visit org.au/friends-and-family/mental-health/.
- Remember you’re not alone. Many parents have concerns about the online world.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It’s normal to seek support; Headspace is contacted about these issues frequently.
Ann Gallagher, a mum from the headspace Family and Friends Reference Group, walked with her own daughter through a long and painful bullying ordeal, and Ann encourages other parents to be aware and supportive.
“Cyberbullying had a significant impact on my daughter’s mental health and her ability to attend school,” Ann says. “We had to work really hard for months with the school and police to find an outcome that kept her safe and enabled her time and space to recover.
“I would encourage parents to be aware of what goes on so they can be there for their kids.”