What is Cyber Bullying? How can I prevent my child from being cyber bullied?

We hear a lot about cyber bullying in the media but what is it exactly?

Cyber bullying is the deliberate use of communications and new media technologies (email, phones, chatrooms, discussion groups, instant messaging, video clips, cameras, hate websites/pages, blogs and gaming sites) to repeatedly harass, threaten, harm, humiliate, and victimise another with the intention to cause harm, discomfort and intimidation. Common acts of cyber bullying may include: Harassment; denigration; impersonation; outing and trickery; exclusion; cyber-stalking; sexting.

This form of technology has only been widely used over the last 5 to 10 years with approximately 31 million mobile phones in use in Australia along with 83% of the population having internet connection. What does this mean to victims of cyber bullying and/or their parents?

People who come to see us will sometimes report issues around low self-esteem and loss of self-confidence which they can trace back to childhood, relaying stories about how they were bullied in the school yard. They talk of feeling scared, afraid, worried, anxious, emotionally hurt, confused, hopeless, upset, physically weak, powerless, guilty (as though they are to blame), miserable, ill, irritated, ashamed, low morale, sad, angry, moody, depressed, disconnected, socially isolated/alone, quiet, weak, unhappy and bad tempered.

It’s an unfortunately long list of feelings which leave a long lasting impression on a person—feelings they carry with them every day. Can you imagine how much more we are going to see these types of issues today where people can be bullied over and over by others using technology? A person can re-live those words of bullying in their heads but how much more powerful are they when they are in print or in photos to be uploaded and spread across a potentially infinite cyber audience. Not to mention how the victim can re-read these words and re-live those pictures over and over.

What can we do about this?

Educate our young people on the harm that this kind of victimisation does to a person, how it becomes a lifelong issue which people deal with for the rest of their lives. Help them to see they can stand against bullying whether they are the victim or the bystander. If society says it is not okay to bully a person, then the bully loses power and the victim feels supported.

Also we don’t have to become a victim—we can be in control of what we read and who is on our Facebook, what chats or discussion groups we belong to. We can start to take control of what we allow to happen to us. Most social media groups don’t tolerate bullying and you can report this kind of incident. If you are being bullied talk to someone about this—it is important to be able to reach out and get help; keeping it to yourself is not the answer. You need support and another person can help you get a better perspective on this.

One of my children was the victim of a bully at school and he was too afraid to tell me in case I did anything. After many mornings of struggling to get him to school and a promise that I would not cause a fuss, he finally confided in me that a particular person on his bus had been bullying him. I asked him about this person and said “Wow, he must feel really awful about himself if he is so unhappy he has to pick on you.” This one statement helped my son to see him in a different light and he actually began to pity this person. This then altered the power dynamic within this relationship. This may not work in every situation, but it certainly helped my son.

If you have been a victim of bullying, professional help in the form of counselling can help. Negative self-talk can be changed; you can change how you think about yourself and become the person you know you can be. Often you have to believe in yourself and not what someone else has said about you.

You can call us on 1300 139 703, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to arrange to meet one of our counsellors. This is a free service, provided to all residents of Queensland, for crimes (including cyber bullying), which have occurred recently or at any time in the past.


-- Val Holden is a counsellor and manager with Relationships Australia Qld, the providers of the Victims Counselling and Support Service