Cyberbullying – what can adults do about it?

SHELLEY MARSDEN takes a look at how out-of-their-depth parents and other adults can prevent young people being cyberbullied…

WHEN young people find themselves being bullied in the cyber world, the impact can be strong – not least because the adults around them are often completely in the dark about it.

A study in Ireland published in 2011 found that “all forms of cyber bullying, other than email, were regarded by participants as worse than traditional bullying”, and “all types of cyber bullying were perceived to be less likely to be noticed by an adult than traditional bullying” (Cotter & McGilloway).

Cyber bullying is instantaneous and widespread. It is seen by countless people and often discussed in forums and networking sites, so its impact is often regarded as more severe when compared to ‘traditional bullying’.

With more traditional forms, bullying stops when a child gets home or leaves the school grounds, but in the cyber world, bullying can follow him or her into these refuges that were once safe havens. We close our front door, but a text can be sent to our phone, or we can receive an email, at any time and in any place. Even when the bullying message is not sent to us directly, it can be posted on a networking site where comments are left.

All of this can add to stress levels increasing and a feeling of helplessness on the child’s part in how to respond. Here it is important that as adults, we ensure our children are aware of our support. We need to talk, explore and listen to our children’s online life, and reinforce the need to let us know if there is ever anything concerning them.

The statistics on cyberbullying are pretty shocking. According to research, some 90 per cent of young victims do not tell adults of online bullying issues, which are twice as likely to affect girls as boys. Over 40 per cent of all UK high school children have been bullied online and one in four have suffered repeated incidents. Cyberbullying can lead to depression, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, self-harming, social isolation and, in the worst cases, suicide. It is estimated to cost the UK education budget over £18 million per year


As adults, we often feel like we are playing “catch-up” to the technological developments that seem to occur so frequently, and that our children take as the norm. Andrew Jackson, National Anti-bullying Coordinator with the ISPCC in Dublin, believes awareness and education, and knowing how to respond as positively as possible, is essential.

He said: “We should be aware that cyber bullying involves sending or posting hurtful, embarrassing, or threatening text or images using the Internet, mobile phones, or other digital communication devices. By using these technologies cyber bullies can reach a big group of people quickly. Their goal is to damage their victim’s reputation and friendships.

A recent Irish Study showed 25% of cyber bullying victims do not confide in anybody about the bullying, which is higher than in any other form of bullying. The reason is a fear of having their computer or phone taken away by their parents as a means of stopping the abuse. This is unfair, as it then punishes the victim for being bullied.

Mr Jackson added: “Cyber-bullies can maintain a high degree of anonymity as they are not in the presence of their victims. This makes it seem easier to bully others! However, evidence will always be available to the authorities. More people can be exposed to cyber-bullying compared to traditional bullying as this form of communication is widespread. Cyber-bullying as a form of bullying is becoming more widespread due to the increased availability and use of electronic communication.”

But regardless of the type of bullying going on, be it the traditional form or the more modern cyber development, Mr Jackson believes there are positive, practical responses that we can offer as adults to our children and grandchildren.


These include being open and willing to explore the internet together; discussing and developing options with your child as to what should happen and how to respond if they are ever cyber bullied, reinforcing the need for children to follow the age limits on websites.

We should learn how to immediately block the sender of any bullying messages, ensure children are aware they should never give out their passwords, check your child’s privacy settings are adequate and have open discussions about the need to choose online friends carefully – it’s not a race to see how many online friends we have compared to others. Importantly, if your teenager gets a bullying message or email, NEVER delete it – it’s proof of the bullying.

Another thing to do is Google your child’s name. This way, you see what profile information is readily available about them online – and bear in mind that if you can find it, anyone can.

For the rest of this article, see the Irish World newspaper (issue 7 Sept 2013).


Useful contacts

Cybersmile: Visit or call the Helpline on 0845 688 7277.

CHILDLINE: 0800 1111

NSPCC: (if you are under 18) 0808 800 5000

BULLYING UK FAMILY LINE: (for children and parents of bullied children) 0808 800 2222

IN IRELAND – ISPCC: 1800 66 66 66 (24 hours a day) / Teentxt: Text the word “Talk” to 50101 (open from 10am-10pm everyday), or log on to for live web chate.




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