While the growing capabilities of smartphones and the internet have excelled over the past decade, providing us with more ways than ever to connect with each other, the sad truth is that it’s also given some people greater anonymity when it comes to bullying. Cyberbullying is a growing problem throughout British communities, but it’s most concentrated in schools and within groups of young people. In a 2011 report, Ofcom found that nearly 1 in 8 young people had been bullied online – and this doesn’t even account for messages and calls sent through smartphones!
While it’s a tragedy that some children have to endure this 21st-Century form of bullying, it’s extremely important that parents and carers – be they guardians, friends, or teachers – can spot the signs that a young person may be being subjected to abuse online. We’re taking a look at the effect smartphones are having on the younger generation, and in this guide, we’ll detail some of the key signs that a child may be a victim of cyberbullying, so you’ll know what to look out for and when to put a stop to it.
Withdrawal or Unsociable Behaviour
For a lot of people this can be difficult to gauge, especially with teenagers as it’s not uncommon that they may become isolated and less sociable with the family. However, this can be one of the very first signs that cyberbullying in taking place, so it’s important to keep note of a child’s behaviour. For example, if a child is usually happy and attentive but suddenly becomes reserved or withdrawn for a long period of time, and for no obvious reason, it’s probably a sign that something isn’t right.
Likewise, if your child suddenly stops either going out with their friends or speaking to them online – whether that be on the phone or playing a game together – that’s also an obvious sign that something may not be right.
Irregular Computer/ Smartphone Use
While it may seem counter intuitive, if a young person you know is a victim of cyberbullying, they may be spending adverse time on the internet or on their smartphone. So, if they usually spend 1-2 hours a night on their phone and suddenly start spending all night on it, it could be a sign that something isn’t right. Obviously, this has to be contextualised with other behaviours, such as withdrawal, so as not to jump to conclusions.
Equally, if a young person stops using their phone or computer altogether, or goes out of their way to avoid them, that could also be a sign that cyberbullying is occurring.
Trouble Eating or Sleeping
This applies for most forms of bullying, but if you notice a change in your child’s eating or sleeping habits, the likelihood is that something is bothering them. Cyberbullying has a very detrimental effect on a victim’s self-confidence, and this can manifest itself in a lack of eating, so if you do notice a significant change, it could be a sign of cyberbullying. Furthermore, if a child is scared of their cyberbullies or suffers anxiety as a result, it can affect their sleep pattern, especially if they’re worried about seeing their bully in school the next day. While there are myriad reasons for a child’s sleep to be disturbed, if it’s linked with a fear of school, cyberbullying of some form could be the cause.
Hiding Phones and Closing Windows
This may seem obvious, but it can be easy to miss if you’re not looking out for it. It’s not unusual for children to be secretive on their phones or computers, especially from parents, but if you notice that your child is going out of their way to hide their online activity from you, such as leaving the room when their phone goes off, then it could be a sign that something is wrong. Likewise, if they close windows or hide the computer screen when you walk past, it could be an indication of cyberbullying.
The most obvious sign that a child may be suffering from bullying, cyber or otherwise, is a blanket refusal to leave the house. If they are suddenly looking for excuses to not go to school, such as feigning illness or playing truant, the chances are that they are avoiding something or someone. This could be a sign that they have experienced some form of cyberbullying and do not want to confront their tormentor on the playground.
Spotting the signs of cyberbullying is just the first step in stamping it out, but it’s also important to communicate with your children to understand the issues that are currently affecting them.
Hopefully, with this guide, you’ll have a better understand of the warning signs, so you can make an informed decision about your child’s wellbeing if any problems arise.