Online Bullying

Advice and tips to help you speak to children and young people about internet safety and online bullying.


While the internet provides many positive channels for communication and learning, young people also tell us that they have experienced bullying through social media and online platforms.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, children and young people will be spending more time online at home than usual. This can come with risks, and in times of uncertainty incidents of prejudice-based bullying and hate crime can rise. 

For more help keeping your child safe online, visit our page: Online safety for parents and carers



Dealing with online bullying

Your reaction to online bullying shouldn’t differ greatly from your reaction to a disclosure of other types of bullying. It’s important to focus on the behaviour and the impact it has had, and not get hung up on ‘how’ or ‘where’ the bullying has taken place.

However, when bullying is taking place online, there are some additional steps you can take to resolve the situation:

Identify the bullying material.

Familiarise yourself with the online platform and any messages, posts or pictures that your child has received. If you feel that any of these messages or pictures could be construed as illegal, take copies, dates, times and contact details to the police.

Ask them to share any further messages with you.

Reassure your child that you won’t over-react; you are not trying to invade their privacy, you are trying to help resolve the situation. If you reply to any of the messages, be very careful not to respond in a manner which could be seen as threatening or harassing.

Involve other agencies.

When online bullying is being carried out by someone your child sees at school or other organisation, it might be worth involving staff. If both parties are at school, make the school aware of the problems, if they are not already, and involve them in the resolution plan.

Support your child

It is important not to get too hung up on the fact that your child has experienced bullying online, but to recognise that they have been bullied and need the same support as they would if they had experienced any other type of bullying. Take their concerns seriously, remain calm, and consider what they would like to happen.


Important points to discuss with young people

Online relationships deserve the same respect as offline relationships.

For most young people, the friends they have online are the same friends they have offline. Sometimes, they may connect with people they do not know over a shared interest such as music, films or football. Either way, people online should be treated with the same level of respect and consideration as they would if they were in the same room.

If you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it.

Many people act differently online than they would offline. Many children and young people do not believe they will be caught for bullying online and do not fully appreciate how permanent their online communication is. Ask your child, ‘Would you say this if the person was sitting in front of you?’ If they answer no, tell them not to send it.

Remember that you are communicating differently.

Without the ability to read gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, it can be easy to misinterpret what is seen on the screen. For example, typing in capital letters can often be seen as shouting. Young people may need help to understand the impact of what they mean and what they actually write.

Online communication can all be traced.

There is no such things as anonymity online. Everything sent and posted can be traced - a fake email or social media account will have a unique IP address from your service provider, and text messages can be traced though your SIM card. It is important that children and young people are aware of the consequences of posting messages online.

Never give away personal information.

Young people should not give out personal information about themselves or others on the internet. Nor should they share private passwords with anyone, even those they trust. Keeping passwords secure ensures no third party can access your child’s online accounts.

What will happen if you are being bullied online?

Make your child aware of what will happen if they find themselves being bullied online. Some young people will be reluctant to come forward for fear of losing access to the internet, or that their phones will be taken away. Be mindful of this and remember that bullying is a behaviour displayed by people; it is not a technology issue.

Internet and mobile phone usage.

Take an interest in how your child uses the internet, what they do online, what sites they use and why. Having general conversations about this can open up lines of communication to discuss deeper issues and can provide you with a valuable insight into your child’s online and mobile phone activity.

Agree a code of conduct.

Together with your child, come to an agreement about how the internet will be used and what will happen if it is misused in anyway. This will create a good baseline and may prevent issues in the future.


Practical steps

Ensure their profile is ‘private’.

Online profiles should always be made private so that only people who have been accepted as ‘friends’ can access them. If pages are ‘public’, or the default settings are left in place, anyone can access the profile. Discuss and agree privacy settings with your child before they sign up to an online platform or social media account.

Turn ‘Location Services’ off.

The default settings for social networking sites often include Location Services being activated. Make sure your child’s Location Services are turned off to prevent anyone finding out exactly where they posted from.

Delete nasty comments or posts.

Users can delete messages if they are nasty, offensive or they just don’t want them to appear on their page. The sender of the message will not be notified that their comment has been deleted.

’Block’ users or numbers.

Users can ‘block’ people formerly regarded as ‘friends’ from seeing, reading, or contacting them online. Blocking can be very effective however it can often be seen as socially unacceptable, so be mindful of this and ask your child how they would feel about it.

Report abuse.

Most social networks allow users to report communications that they consider to be illegal, offensive, harassing or bullying in nature. The networks do not have capacity to monitor all profiles, so they rely on people using reporting tools as a way of policing the site.

In general, networks advise that nasty comments are ignored and deleted unless they are threatening or illegal, in which case they should be reported to the site administrators and, where applicable, the police.

You can also download a CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) app that stays visible on the webpage and can be clicked to instantly report abuse or get advice.


Parental settings

In addition to discussing the steps that young people can take themselves, you should explore the use of parental settings over your home internet and devices.

Microsoft Family Safety

Software packages such as Microsoft Family Safety allow you to set limits on the hours your child can use web browsers, how long they can spend online, and how old they must be to access certain content.

If you decide to, you can block websites such as Facebook and Twitter, and you can ask for a weekly email updating you on the sites they have visited.

Gamer settings

If your child is a gamer, Xbox Live and PlayStation Plus both have parental settings that allow you to control times, age restrictions, access to the internet and who they can talk to online. There are helpful videos on YouTube explaining how to use these settings.

Managing parental settings can be daunting for some, and it can be tempting to let your child get on with it themselves, but taking the time to understand how you can make their online spaces safer will help you both feel more confident in dealing with an issue if it arises.