The internet can be an incredible resource for adults and children, for both entertainment and learning, but it can also be a scary place at times. This is especially true for kids who spend a lot of time interacting with each other online.
As with all forms of communication, there is always a small minority who seek to exploit the wonderful, open medium without thought for others. It's rare, but is something to be aware of when allowing a child to chat over the internet.
Parents need to understand how their sons or daughters are interacting with other children both at home and elsewhere. Sufficient knowledge can ensure youngsters have the support and protection they need.
Online cruelty between children is one area to be particularly vigilant about. While we can understand the challenges in the school playground or with siblings, it can be harder to track or notice similar challenges on the internet. These interactions happen in the virtual world, which far from reducing their impact can in fact be harder to escape.
This is sometimes called cyberbullying and if you are worried that your child might be targeted by online bullies, there are some telling signs to spot.
5 possible signs of cyberbullying
If your child suddenly starts avoiding their electronic devices, or possibly even loses them, this can be a sign that they are unhappy in this virtual space.
If your child changes the way they use their devices, possibly gaming or texting instead of accessing their usual social networks this can be another sign to watch out for.
Notice the mood of your child after using social media or checking emails. If they appear upset, angry or unresponsive this may be a sign that the interactions there have taken a nose dive.
Also, if your child is not keen to go out of the house to social events or withdraws from other friendly settings this can be a sign of their efforts to cope with bullying in other areas.
If your child starts going to another room to use their computer or smartphone, or wants to make calls in private, this can be a sign that they are trying to hide conflict in these interactions.
Also, if you notice your child adding passwords to their smartphone or deleting messages this is a good sign that they are worried about the content of these interactions.
There are also other general mood indicators of bullying that apply in any situation. If your child appears upset, downcast, frustrated, angry or impatient this can be a sign of trouble.
Also, if they fall behind at school or are reluctant to appear at family meal times or to eat well this can be another indicator.
Cyberbullying: What to do about it
There are a number of support charities and networks that can help if you think you have a trouble (referenced below). Opening lines of communication about any issues is a good first port of call.
With technology in particular, keeping games and tablets mainly in the shared family spaces helps avoid some of the issues as well as making the above signs easier to spot. Also, having a place downstairs to put technology in the evening to charge can be a simple way to avoid devices migrating out of sight to bedrooms.
Setting up privacy and security options on your devices can avoid problems around image sharing. Conversations about appropriate behaviour online is also a big positive, and enables parents to highlight how public the internet is and the inability to delete images after they are shared.
Cyberbullying: Further advice
At internetmatters.org parents can find all the advice they will need to keep their children safe online. Designed specifically for parents, the site offers a wealth of up-to-date, unbiased information and advice about how to deal with online safety. Parents can learn about the latest issues and technologies, get great tips on how to talk about online safety with their children and get the best advice on dealing with issues and taking action. Created with experts, Internet Matters provides detailed information, but also signposts to best-in-class resources from individual expert organisations. Our goal is to ensure parents can always access the information that they need, in a format that is clear and concise.