Cyberbullying in children is on the rise worldwide. Cyberbullying can be interpreted as the act or acts of utilising technology to hurt or bully someone else. Such acts include but are not limited to spreading untruths or rumours on the internet, stalking a former boyfriend or girlfriend, harassing or threatening someone as well as sending, posting or sharing nasty comments or messages.
Although physical bullying can be injurious especially when one or more parties can be involved. Cyberbullying acts can be carried out anonymously in the public online sphere and can spread swiftly due to the nature of the internet, without the perpetrator(s) having to bear responsibility for the damage done. Moreover, removing the evidence of cyberbullying can be mostly challenging, if not an almost impossible process as what is shared on most online platforms cannot be completely removed.
A 2020 Child Online Safety Index (Cosi) report, which encapsulates data on more than 145,000 children, found that 60% of 8 to 12-year-olds across 30 countries are exposed to cyber risks. This report found that 70% of children who own a smartphone are exposed to one major cyber menace such as cyberbullying among other risks. Importantly, children who are very active on gaming sites or social media face an 89% risk of exposure to cyber dangers like bullying. A 2018 study revealed that the duration of time spent online is a greater contributing reason to cyberbullying than factors like victim’s location or age. In other words, if your child spends more than 2 hours daily on social media, your child is 57% more likely to experience cyberbullying in the previous year.
Your usually jovial child might be withdrawn after experiencing cyberbullying. Your child might also seem extremely depressed and alienated from others. Also, if your child might not participate in family activities at all or as often as before. Ensure that your child knows that you are always there as a pillar of support.
Your child might display uneasiness about going to school or even stepping out of your house, chances if cyberbullying happens. Social isolation means that your child could feel discomfort in the school environment or among friends. If your child often indicates a desire to skip school or calls you during the school day imploring to return home earlier, take it as a warning sign that bullying might have happened.
Sometimes, your child might not withdraw from the surroundings after being cyberbullied. Instead, your child might get agitated or furious after using the Internet instead. For example, your child might violently shut the lid of the laptop or fling mobile devices on the floor or on the bed. While such behaviour might seem dramatic, it is understandable especially when your child is trying to react against online bullies.
In the previous section, we explored the signs to look out for to see if your child is a victim of cyberbullying. Nonetheless, the tables would be turned if you discover that your child might be a cyberbully. Look out for the following hints that your child might be a cyberbully instead.
Your child might be a cyberbully if you hear him or her heaping unkind remarks on others when surfing the Internet or when texting on social media sites. Worse still, you might even notice your child’s posts that contain mean remarks about others on public Internet domains. Calmly but firmly have an open conversation with your child about the reasons motivating such cyberbullying behaviour and instruct your child to remove such comments from the Internet if possible. Help your child understand the adverse consequences of cyberbullying on someone on the other end of the screen. Also, encourage your child to apologise to the relevant victims involved.
Your child might have many social networking accounts that contain both authentic or fake profiles, to anonymously spread rumours or send unkind messages to victims online. Your child might be harassing a friend or someone behind your back. For instance, if your child was rejected by someone romantically or platonically, your child could very well use social media to seek revenge on the other party. In reality, monitoring your child’s online activity might be challenging as your child might be secretive of such behaviour. That being said, it is good to have a look at your child’s Internet browsing history or have your child use the Internet only in your presence.
Your child might hang out with peers who are rude and unkind and become a cyberbully just to “fit in”. As a parent, educate your child on the consequences of cyberbullying on others’ feelings and even lives. Speak to your child on the worst-case scenarios of cyberbullying, such as when the cyberbullying victim commits suicide. Hopefully, such thought-provoking conversations would shake some sense into your child to consider others’ feelings.
As difficult as it is to learn your child is a victim of cyberbullying, you might be equally hard-pressed to realise that your child is a cyberbully. As a parent, you might feel disappointed, upset and even embarrassed. The key is to always remain calm in all situations and talk things through with your child. Providing a safe and open space for your child to communicate with you can help in identifying whether your child is a victim of cyberbullying or prevent them from becoming a cyberbully.
 “Global study warns of ‘cyber pandemic’ among children; biggest risk for S’porean kids is cyber bullying”, https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/global-study-warns-cyber-pandemic-among-children-biggest-risk-sporean-kids-cyberbullying, Retrieved 16 July 2021.
 Athanasiou, K., Melegkovits, E., Andrie, E.K. et al. Cross-national aspects of cyberbullying victimization among 14–17-year-old adolescents across seven European countries. BMC Public Health 18, 800 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-018-5682-4
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