The impact of cyberbullying is the same as any other form of bullying, affecting self-esteem and self-confidence and in severe cases leading to mental health issues with potential consequences of self-harm and suicide.

With the increasing use of technology by society as a whole, coupled with the growing numbers of social media and gaming platforms, the issue of cyberbullying is on the increase. For some children/young people this has reportedly led to tragic consequences, and the ability to hide behind technology means that some people are regularly being trolled by others.

Cyberbullying can take many forms:

  • threats and intimidation;
  • harassment / stalking;
  • the forwarding of images (including nude / semi-nude images) and information that has been shared privately by the victim;
  • isolation or rejection (including by peer groups);
  • defamation of character;
  • revealing sensitive or personal information about someone without their consent ;
  • using tagging / memes to embarrass / humiliate;
  • impersonating someone in order to belittle them;
  • creating or adding to an abusive poll about someone.

As parents, carers, teachers and practitioners, there is a need to ensure that we help children and young people stay safe when online whilst also accepting that for children/young people today there is no differentiation between online and offline worlds.

Definition of cyberbullying

“Online bullying, or cyberbullying, is when someone uses the internet to target and deliberately upset someone.”

Childnet, 2022

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How cyberbullying happens

Children and young people talked to Childnet about a range of ways that cyberbullying could be carried out, including:

  • posting comments, messages, photos or screenshots that are mean, threatening, untrue, personal, secret or embarrassing.
  • anonymous messages or abuse (on social networks or online gaming).
  • filming you or taking photos of you without your consent.
  • ‘indirect’ messages when you don’t directly name someone, but everyone knows who you are talking about.
  • fake accounts or profiles.
  • excluding people from online conversations or talking behind your back.

Participants also mentioned cyberbullying could be targeted on the grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and race.

It is therefore important that as professionals we listen to what we are being told and are prepared to talk about the impact of technology on children and young people, seeking advice if we do not understand the issues being talked about.

What you need to know

Cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on children and young people. It is important that settings take measures to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying among children and young people.

If online content is offensive or inappropriate, and the person or people responsible are known, you need to ensure they understand why the material is unacceptable or offensive and request they remove it.

However, it is also important that settings make it clear that the bullying of staff, whether by pupils, parents or colleagues, is unacceptable. Evidence indicates that one in five (21%) teachers have reported having derogatory comments posted about them on social media sites from both parents and children.

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Cyberbullying is an increasingly common form of bullying behaviour (in the 2020 Ditch the Label report, over a quarter of children reported being cyberbullied). Children may know who is bullying them online – it may be an extension of offline bullying – or they may be targeted by someone using a fake or anonymous account. Cyberbullying can happen at any time or anywhere – a child can be bullied when they are alone in their bedroom – so it can feel like there is no escape.

It is easy to be anonymous online and this may increase the likelihood of engaging in bullying behaviour.

Risk factors

Although cyberbullying can affect anyone at any time, some children and young people may be more vulnerable, for example:

Think about what measures you have in place in your setting to address potential discrimination / targeting of these children. How are British values promoted in the curriculum in a way that creates a cohesive culture in your setting to raise awareness of problems and reduce the impact of cyberbullying? Do you have particular routes that children and young people use to report a concern, and are these well publicised and understood by them?

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Spotting the signs

The signs of bullying and cyberbullying overlap. They can include:

  • aggression;
  • isolation;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • difficulty developing relationships;
  • reduction in attendance and/or attainment;
  • eating disorder;
  • low self-esteem, depression or anxiety;
  • self-harm.
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What you can do

  • have bullying champions in the staff and student group;
  • any instances of bullying should be addressed immediately;
  • every setting should have clear and understood policies in place that include the acceptable use of technologies by pupils and staff that address cyberbullying;
  • develop a community approach to bullying, involving pupils, parents/careers and the setting;
  • if you have any concerns regarding cyberbullying these should be raised with the bullying champion and designated safeguarding lead;
  • Ensure staff training keeps up to date with the latest technologies and its potential for bullying.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know they are safe.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handout for school staff summarising cyberbullying;
  • Quiz to test staff understanding.
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