(Pocket-lint) - Internet Matters is a not-for-profit organisation that helps parents understand the digital world, so they can ensure their children can use the internet and connected devices safely.
It has many articles and how-to guides about all manner of digital subjects, from parental controls on games consoles and other devices to how to set up a mobile phone for a teenager.
There's one major subject front and centre of Internet Matters' website at present though: cyberbullying.
If you've ever had nasty comments directed at you on Twitter, Facebook or on other social media platforms or forums you'll understand the anger and sadness it can prompt. Now imagine if you are a very young child. It's a horrifying trend that can be hard to spot and even harder to prevent if you don't know what to look for.
That's why Internet Matters set up its #Pledge2Talk campaign, along with experts from the Anti-Bullying Alliance and more, to help parents understand cyberbullying and discover what actions can be taken if their children are affected.
You can find out more at internetmatters.org/cyberbullying; however, Pocket-lint also spoke to the organisation's general manager, Carolyn Bunting, to get a host of tips to help parents spot the signs.
How big a problem is cyberbullying today?
Bullying as we once knew it has changed. Because of the popularity of smartphones, social media and the digital lives our children now lead - cruel comments no longer stop at the school gates. Instead, we live in an age where the threat of bullying is still very real, even when children are at home - the very places they should feel the most safe and secure.
We carried out a study of 2,000 parents which showed how two thirds were just as concerned about cyberbullying as online grooming and sexting. One in 10 mums and dads revealed their child had been involved in an online bullying incident but 32 per cent said they had yet to talk to their children about it.
What can a parent do to spot the signs of cyberbullying?
Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying can affect normal everyday behaviour. Signs to look out for are things like children stopping using their electronic devices suddenly or unexpectedly,
Seeming nervous or jumpy when using their devices, or becoming obsessive about being constantly online or appearing anxious or upset after using devices.
You recently launched the #Pledge2Talk campaign, is it designed to get parents talking with their children about cyberbullying?
We want to encourage parents to sit down with their children and talk about who and how they are connecting with their friends online, about how they behave online and ensuring they demonstrate the same behaviours online as they would normally use face to face.
It is vital that children also know they can talk to you if they see or hear anything online that upsets them, and that you are aware of some of the signs that might indicate your child could be being bullied online.
It is not parents alone who shoulder the responsibility for tackling cyberbullying, but the best way for parents to become involved in their children’s digital lives is to have regular chats as they would about their everyday offline lives.
Is it better to stop children using social media or is it possible to have a healthy online social lifestyle for a child?
The new, connected society does pose risks to children but it can also be a great way of enriching their lives, broadening their horizons and giving them the chance to learn vital communication skills with their peers.
The internet and technology provides children with a wealth of opportunities, and we don’t want children to be afraid to go online, or held back in their future careers because of a negative experience online. That’s why we advise parents to talk to children about their digital lives, play an active role in making their time on the internet as enjoyable and safe as they do offline.
Give us three tips to help parents start a conversation about cyberbullying?
1. Whatever it is you want to discuss, it’s important to think about where, and how, to talk so your children will listen. There’s no telling how long the conversation is going to last, so the first thing to consider is where and when you’re going to start it off - make sure you’re in a space where your child will feel comfortable opening up and you won’t be interrupted. Sitting in the front of a parked car may be better than sitting at the family kitchen table in a house full of people, for example.
2. It’s a good idea to jot down what you want to say as it stops you rambling or going on too long, and it also helps you get the important points over clearly. It’s also best to think about having a few "bite-sized" conversations over a period of time. It gives your child the time to process what you’ve discussed and avoids the whole thing sounding like a heavy lecture.
3. It helps to remember that you are there to be your child’s parent - not their friend. You have a responsibility to keep them safe online, just as you do in real life. They may not like you, or thank you at the moment, but it’s important to jot down a few simple rules that you want your child to follow and for you and your partner to agree to, that will help reduce the chances that your child will be bullied online.
If parents think their child is being bullied online, what can they do?
It’s important to speak to them right away and in the same way that you’d talk to your child about any form of bullying - aim to resolve things together. If things escalate, speak to the school and, if appropriate, the other child’s parents. Do the same thing with cyberbullying as you would do with face-to-face bullying.
It may feel like it’s the right thing to do to take away their phone but often this isn’t the best course of action. We know that one of the reasons children don’t open up is that they think: "Oh, I’m afraid if I tell you I’m being bullied, you will take this away."
Kids worry about opening up, they’re afraid of what you will do - so ensure you’re going to work with them, give them support around how much they engage with social media, monitor it and discuss it.
If a parent doesn’t know as much about technology as their child, where can they find out more?
Internet Matters has a resource centre for parents on how to deal with cyberbullying, from spotting if your child has been a victim, to simple steps on what action to take. Head to internetmatters.org/cyberbullying.
Where is the first place to seek help if you think your child is a victim of cyberbullying?
There are different levels of support that you can get. In the first instance, speak to your child, make sure they know you’re there for them. Then take a look at their privacy settings.
The next level is try to speak with the other child’s parents and try and make them aware and also the school.
Parents also should look at internetmatters.org, which can help advise parents. That advice is key as don’t forget this technology is new to all of us: Facebook is a teenager, Snapchat is only a six-year-old child. As parents, we are all kind of playing catch-up. Don't be afraid to ask for advice.