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What to do if your child is a cyber bully

Updated: Nov 8, 2022

Cyber bullying can be damaging to both victims and perpetrators (Image: Shutterstock)
Cyber bullying can be damaging to both victims and perpetrators (Image: Shutterstock)

Few things are worse for a parent than hearing that your child is the victim of bullying. But what about the other side of that unpleasant coin? What if your child is the one doing the bullying?

To mark Social Media Kindness Day, we’re looking into the often-ignored side of online bullying – how to spot if your child is a cyber bully, and what you can do about it.

What is cyber bullying?

Cyber bullying – which can also be called online bully or online harassment – is the use of any electronic communication to bully, threaten, harass or intimidate someone. It sometimes isn’t taken as seriously a traditional bullying because there isn’t a physical aspect to it and it rarely happens face to face with the victim. However this doesn’t make it any less damaging or dangerous.

The Anti-Bullying Alliance found that 17.9% of 11-15 year olds had reported being bullied online in the last two months. They also point out how girls are twice as likely to be bullied online that boys.

How to spot if your child is a cyber bully

Some behaviours of a cyber bully are obvious. For example, if you see your child writing mean or hurtful messages to others on social media or using aggressive and threatening language during online games, these are clear indicators of bullying behaviour.

But some other cyber bullying activities can be harder to identify:

  • Excluding people from groups or games. This is often done to single out and isolate other children.

  • Voting on hurtful polls. Even if your child did not create the poll, by voting on it they are joining in with the mean activity.

  • Creating multiple profiles. These can often be used to troll victims anonymously.

Parents should also be aware that cyber bullying isn’t only something done to people you know. Writing a cruel comment on the wall of a stranger – or even a famous person – is still bullying behaviour and should be stopped.

What to do if your child is a cyber bully

Changing behaviours in young people is always hard, and there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution that will work on every child. However, here are a few tips and pointers on what to do if you discovered your child is a cyber bullying.

  • Identify the motivation. Very few bullies, whether online or otherwise, start the behaviour at random. Some are acting out due to other issues in their life. Some are seeking attention and validation. Some are being bullied themselves. Talk to your child and find out why they are behaving this way online.

  • Keep your own behaviour in check. Have you been laughing at unflattering images of people online, or liking hurtful Tweets? Your child might have picked up on this behaviour and internalised it. Remember to always set the right example.

  • Discuss exactly what cyber bullying is with your child. Some mean-spirited prank videos get thousands of comments and millions of likes, so is it any real surprise that children look up to and sometimes emulate this sort of behaviour? Make sure they know exactly what is harmless online fun, and what constitutes as bullying.

  • More practical consequences. Many parents have found that removing their children’s electronics for a set time period is a suitable punishment for cyberbullying. Others have taken it a step further and forced their child to delete all harmful content, comments and messages they have posted, as well as apologise to any of their victims.

Remember that children will sometimes not even be aware that their online behaviour could be classed as bullying. Once it’s pointed out and dealt with, most will learn from their mistakes and change their behaviour. Learn more about cyberbullying over at the Anti-Bullying Alliance.


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