Give cyberbullying the thumbs down
Having an understanding ally in a parent makes such a difference to young people in dealing with difficult social situations and bullying. Photograph: Getty Images
JOHN SHARRYanswers readers' questions
Q My 16-year-old daughter had become quite withdrawn and irritable the past few weeks. She eventually told me that she was picked on and bullied by another girl online. This girl is from around the area but goes to another school. She had met a boy at a disco a few months go and dated him a few times. He was an ex-boyfriend of this girl and she posted some nasty stuff about my daughter online.
My daughter got angry and retaliated online, then it escalated and the comments were shared with other people.
My daughter was very upset but seems to be better now we have talked. I’m not sure if I should do anything now (a friend says I should report it) as it seems to have quietened down and there are no further posts online. Also my daughter was a little culpable as she said some nasty stuff back to the other girl.
A While young people have always been falling out and saying mean things about one another, your question highlights how this problem can be made a lot worse when these disputes occur online.
Comments posted on social networking websites have much greater potential to hurt as they can be more widely distributed and form a permanent record on the internet. Further, there is evidence that people can be more “disinhibited” on the internet, making them more likely to make more virulent and nasty comments than they would in face-to-face communication.
It is good that your daughter spoke to you about what happened to her and that you were there to support her. Having an understanding ally in a parent makes such a difference to young people in dealing with difficult social situations and bullying.
What to do next really depends on how serious an incident it was, how your daughter is affected and whether it will be repeated. If there has been no recent follow-up, then the best thing may be to let things lie for the moment and help your daughter learn from what happened and to move on. There is a lot for her to learn about understanding jealousy in boy/girl relationships and also how to deal with difficult people online.
As it may be just a one-off incident and in the context of a relationship dispute, there may be no need to report the incident but you should keep a record of the communications in case you need to take action in the future.
Here are some tips for parents on how to prevent and deal with bullying on the internet that you might want to discuss with your daughter.
Emphasise the importance of respectful communication online
Rather than waiting for problems, it is important to discuss with young people an “etiquette” for communicating online. It is important for them to be aware of how some banter or mildly negative comments can be perceived as offensive online.
In fact, to avoid offence, everyone needs to be much more careful about what they write online than what they might say in face-to-face communication. In addition, you need to remind young people that comments impulsively made can get them into trouble and this will be more the case in the future as guidelines around online bullying in schools are more strongly enforced.