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.
Recent research from Ditch the Label suggested that social media especially was making children more anxious, with Instagram now the platform of choice for the small minority who seek to exploit the wonderful, open medium without thought for others.
It's something to be aware of when allowing a child to freely chat and interact online. 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.
According to online security firm McAfee, over a quarter (27%) of parents never monitor what their children are doing online and, worryingly, one in five parents (21%) said they are not worried about their children potentially speaking to a social predator or cybercriminal online
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 be harder to escape.
If you are worried that your child might be targeted by online bullies, there are some tell-tale signs to spot.
If your child suddenly starts avoiding their electronic devices, or possibly even loses them, this can be a sign that they are unhappy in the virtual space.
2. Change in pattern
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.
What to do about cyberbullying
There are a number of support charities and networks that can help if you think you have 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 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.
Internet Matters has age-appropriate tips on how you can engage with your child, start a conversation about cyberbullying and what you can do to help.
Tips were developed in association with the Anti-bullying Alliance, Childnet, Kidscape and Ditch the Label, so can really help if you are struggling with approaching the subject with your kid.
There are also videos and articles on the Internet Matters website that explain more about cyberbullying and the signs to look out for. You can also follow the campaign and other Internet Matters activities on its dedicated Facebook and Twitter pages.
Also check out these organisations: