Help May 2015

The rise of cyber bullies

How to tackle the problem, support your child

Adolescence can be a challenging time for parents, as children make their first push for independence and try to figure out exactly who they are. At this time, peers play an increasingly important role in their lives, as does social media.

Unlike previous generations, young people today communicate with their friends, without their exchanges being seen or heard, using smartphones and social media sites.

Currently Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr and Vine are some of the more popular choices. Through these sites, young people are encouraged to get to know each other by sharing information, photos and other details of their personal lives.

A 2012 study by the United Nations reports that, globally, 45% of Internet users are under 25 years of age. Among young people aged 12–17, 50% own a mobile phone and 43% use text messaging.

Numerous studies show that over 90% of teenagers are online daily. While most of these communications are positive, many young people worldwide are increasingly experiencing online negative antisocial behaviour: cyberbullying.

The bullying involves the use of technology, such as mobile phones, instant messaging, email, chat rooms and social networking sites, with the intent to harass, threaten or intimidate someone on a repetitive basis. This behaviour includes:

  • Abusive texts and emails
  • Hurtful messages, images or videos
  • Imitating others online
  • Excluding others online
  • Nasty online gossip and chat

Research suggests that 20–30% of students will experience cyberbullying, while 10–20% of students at some point will become cyber bullies. Unlike traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience.

In addition, it can be very difficult to trace the source, while deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts and pictures is extremely difficult.

In 2013, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology reported nearly 200,000 cases of school bullying, which resulted in 196 suicides.

Cyberbullying made up 4.7% of all cases reported, which represents a 12% increase from 2012. The government also reported that, on average, students aged 10–17 spent 107 minutes per day on mobile devices and more than two hours a day online.

No parent wants to learn that their child has become a victim of cyberbullying. Many may be unaware that it is happening. Some of the signs that your child might be a victim of cyberbullying are:

  • Changes in personality, such as withdrawal, anxiety, sadness or anger
  • Appearing more lonely or distressed
  • Unexpected changes in friendship groups
  • Decline in quality of school work
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Avoidance of school and/or clubs
  • A decline in physical health

If you suspect your child may be a victim of cyberbullying, it is important to talk to them in a supportive manner and listen to them without judgment, apportioning blame or attempting to jump in and “solve” it.

Finding ways to rebuild their confidence will be important. Spending time together, doing activities that do not involve technology and talking about their feelings, as well as ways of handling stress, can help. For further information and resources visit

On 24 May, TELL will hold its annual charity walk and run, which this year focuses on preventing bullying. We hope that schools, families, businesses and other organisations will join to help make schools and our community safe places for youth.

Action steps

  • Ask how long the bullying has been occurring and the form it is taking
  • Determine whether evidence can be collected and documented
  • If there are threats of harm or sexual content, involve the police
  • Contact the Internet service provider and the site owner so that material can be preserved, but removed from public view
  • Report the cyberbullying to your child’s school, ask what support they can provide during school hours, and if you are not happy with their actions, make this clear to the relevant local education authorities
  • Block the bully’s email address and mobile phone number, and delete them from your child’s social media contacts
  • If your child becomes distressed or withdrawn, consider professional support for them
  • Do not reply to or delete the messages
  • Do not agree to meet the cyber bully in person
  • Do not remove all technology from your child or tell them to just ignore the problem