Spotting the signs: How parents and teachers can recognise online bullying and what can be done to help | NCFE

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Spotting the signs: How parents and teachers can recognise online bullying and what can be done to help

Anti-Bullying Alliance logo In partnership with the Anti-Bullying Alliance

Earlier this year, we launched our anti-bullying campaign ‘Call It Out’ in response to the growing issue of toxic behaviour online. The campaign brings together industry leaders and stakeholders from the education, business and not-for-profit sectors, to help promote online kindness and identify the ways we can come together to tackle such behaviour. 

One of our campaign partners is the Anti-Bullying Alliance, a coalition of organisations united against bullying, offering an excellent range of useful tools, resources and information. Here – in partnership with the Anti-Bullying Alliance – we share advice on how parents and teachers can spot the signs of bullying, whilst letting you know what can be done to help. 

Spotting the signs 

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and even as a young person’s teacher, you’ll be very aware of their usual patterns of behaviour. Therefore, you’ll likely be aware if something doesn’t seem right. However, there are many different types of behaviour that might indicate that bullying is occurring – so what should you be looking out for? 

Patterns related to attendance are a key indicator; for example, a reluctance to go to school or college, showing signs of distress on a Sunday night or at the end of the holidays could indicate something is wrong – as could your child wanting to leave for school or college much earlier than necessary or returning home much later than expected. 

Other physical and emotional signs could include unexplained tummy upsets or headaches, the young person becoming quiet and withdrawn, or even playing up. This could show itself in an education setting, just as much as it could show itself at home. Torn clothes and missing belongings are another visual indicator that might suggest something isn’t right, as well as an individual being visibly upset after using their phone, tablet or computer. 

It’s important to note that bullying can have an impact on someone’s mental health, so if the young person in your care (at school, college or home) is showing signs of serious distress – for example, suffering from panic attacks, depression, self-harm, uncontrolled crying, fear or anxiety – you should always see a GP, according to the advice of the Anti-Bullying Alliance.  

What about cyberbullying? 

As defined by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, cyberbullying is “any bullying behaviour that takes place ‘virtually’ via mobile devices like phones and tablets, through online social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and is also common on gaming sites.” 

It can happen both inside and outside of school, and includes behaviours such as sending inappropriate text messaging, offensive or degrading images, excluding individuals from group chats, and creating false personas to humiliate others. 

All of the signs mentioned above can be indicators that cyberbullying might be taking place; in fact, the Anti-Bullying Alliance have found that online bullying rarely happens in isolation and most often happens alongside face-to-face bullying.  

For example, a study by the University of Warwick showed that while 29% of teenage students reported being bullied, just 1% of them were victims of online bullying alone. As a result, Professor Dieter Wolke suggested that public health strategies to prevent bullying overall “should still mainly focus on combatting traditional, face-to-face bullying – as that is the root cause of the vast majority of cyberbullying.” 

What can be done to help? 

As a parent or teacher, it can be difficult to know how to help or respond in response to bullying that’s taking place. So, we asked the Anti-Bullying Alliance – as teachers and parents, what can realistically be done to help? 

When it comes to online safety, talking to your teenager about who they’re talking to online and encouraging them to think before talking to people they don’t know in person is really important – try to guide their online behaviour and discuss the idea of establishing boundaries, as well as the concept of ‘friends’. 

Another recommendation comes from Dr Luke Robert, who shares advice on ‘active listening’, which can be helpful for those who are fearful or concerned about a young person in their care. Active listening requires three key things: not giving your opinion or offering a solution, repeating back what you’re heard, and not interrupting. These things, says Robert, are “simple and highly effective to supporting  young people who are involved in a bullying situation.” 

Familiarising yourself with the sites and chat programmes that teens are using is also valuable. By finding out more about their built-in safety functions and how services can be contacted when required, you can educate young people on how to take steps such as blocking individuals from being able to contact them on such platforms. The importance of control and tools on social media was something that we recently discussed in our latest webinar, Call It Out: Staying Safe Online

There are other practical and technical solutions that can be utilised, such as using parental control software provided by internet service providers, mobile phone networks or games consoles. Filtering, monitoring and setting time limits for access to chat can also be helpful when it comes to setting boundaries and expectations, too. 

Visit the Anti-Bullying Alliance website to access further advice and resources, including an interactive anti-bullying information tool and an Anti-Bullying Guide for Parents and Carers. You can also read more about our Call It Out campaign and watch our latest webinar on Staying Safe Online by visiting the NCFE website. 

Other helpful sources of information include Internet Matters’ cyberbullying facts and advice, Childnet’s advice on anti-bullying, and the NSPCC’s keeping children safe online guides. 

24% of children and young people will experience some form of online bullying.

Anti-Bullying Alliance
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