Over the weekend, former model and TV personality Charlotte Dawson committed suicide.
Undeniably tragic, the incident has brought cyberbullying back into the spotlight and the impact it can have on individuals. Throughout her career, Dawson never shied away from discussing her battles with depression and how factors such as cyberbullying attributed to this. Back in 2012, Dawson had attempted suicide as a result of relentless cyberbullying on Twitter.
The subject of suicide is never a pleasant one, but it's also imperative to talk about, especially when bullying can play such a substantial role.
11 years old
Bullying in all its forms is an awful thing to deal with, especially when such actions affect children. Often as we grow older, we learn how to cope with bullies and not allow them to bring us down. As children, however, words tend to hurt more and relentless criticism and mockery can be enough to push any positive, happy kid into a spiral of depression.
Earlier this month, 11-year-old Michael Morones attempted to take his own life after enduring several months of bullying from his school peers for his love of the show My Little Pony. He had tried to hang himself and is still recovering in hospital.
The issue with bullying - and, by extension, cyberbullying - is that regardless of how old the victim is, it can have a huge emotional toll. In the worst case scenarios, victims of bullying can end up taking their own lives. The case of Michael Morones solidifies just how destructive bullying can be. It is a very real issue, regardless of whether bullying is committed in person or behind the cloak of online anonymity.
Protecting your kids from cyberbullies
While cyberbullying can affect anyone, it can often have the greatest impact on children, especially when they're going through school. It's more often than not that someone will become the victim of bullying during their school years, but some will have to endure bullying for longer and by more people than others.
For kids that are bullied on a consistent basis, - offline and online - parents need to step in to help their kids cope and stop the bullying. Unfortunately, while bullying is very serious, often those that are the bullies don't fully comprehend the gravity of their actions. For kids, they often don't realise just how substantial and permanent the impact of bullying can be.
So what can you as a parent do to help your child if they are the victim of cyberbullies?
1. Block and report
One almost universal truth about bullies is that they enjoy taking their actions further and further when it comes to picking on someone. When online, this could be in the form of cruel online messages, mocking the victim on social media, sending out emails that start rumours about the victim, posting demeaning photos, creating a fake profile and pretending to be the victim to defame them, and more.
Ultimately, bullies thrive on reaction. If your child replies to a bully in kind, either acting back aggressively or asking them to stop, chances are the bully will only escalate their actions, becoming more malicious or cruel in their design.
If your child is being bullied, tell them to block and report the person/s bullying them. It's the best way to stop their hateful messages getting through and it will place red flag against their account with the social network / online service they're using. If blocking them doesn't work, then you may have to encourage your child to temporarily deactivate or outright delete their online accounts to reduce the means of contact a bully has with them.
2. Keep records
While one thing your child may want to do is simply forget about the times they are bullied, one of the small advantages for the victim with cyberbullying is that they can keep records of such events. Bullying on or off school grounds is often enough for a bully to face disciplinary action, suspension or even expulsion. So it's worth taking screenshots of what your child's bully/bullies have said. If they don't cease their behaviour, then you have every right to take this information and report it to the school or, if the situation and threats are serious enough, even if the police.
While it may seem like a large step to report such behaviour to law enforcement, sometimes the extent of cyberbullying can justify such measures. In particular, if bullies have been threatening to physically abuse or kill your child, then you should be informing authorities immediately.
3. Remind your child they don't have to endure such behaviour
Sometimes kids can hold off on discussing issues of bullying with their parents because they fear the worst if they become a tattletale. But when they are being verbally abused, threatened and made to fear for their well being, then they have every right to report and discuss such behaviour with you.
Even if your child isn't being bullied, you should tell them that if they ever do end up on the receiving end of bullying in any way, shape or form, then they should tell you. If it's cyberbullying, then you can help them manage their online accounts to reduce such occurrences and take the necessary records if the situation gets out of hand.
If they are being bullied on school grounds, be sure to inform the principal or teachers of what is occurring. No one, under any circumstances, has to endure bullying. Even if the bully claims to be having some harmless fun, that 'harmless fun' can have some very negative consequences on the victim.
Let your child know they don't have to be afraid and that bullying-related issues have solutions. Bullying is common in school life, so schools are equipped to address such problems. On the cyber front, you simply need to exercise vigilance and remind your children that bullies exist and that their words are designed to hurt. When your kids know what to expect, they can cope with the situation with greater confidence and less fear.
Importantly, if your child feels overwhelmed by the bullying, encourage them to talk about it with you. But if they would prefer to talk to someone they know less intimately, then services such as the Kids Helpline can be of great value. They can reach the Kids Helpine on 1800 55 1800.