Online Safety

Bullying can take place online in environments where there is little or no adult supervision. You have an important role to play in explaining your child’s rights and responsibilities when using smart phones, laptops or games consoles to communicate. Knowing how to identify when they or others are bullying someone, or being bullied by someone online will help with building a safe environment.


Children and young people are spending more and more time in online environments, with smart phones, laptops and hand-held devices allowing them to communicate in different ways.  They can still experience name calling, being left out and having rumours spread about them online, through social media sites, online chat, or through gaming platforms.  And it’s worth remembering that most of the friends children and young people interact with online, are the same people they interact with on a daily basis at school or where they live.

You need to be mindful that online spaces are just another ‘place’ young people go to, to socialise and meet up with friends. In order to help keep them safe you have to take an active interest in what they’re doing, where they’re going and who they’re interacting with – in the same way that you would if they were going into town, to the sports centre, or any other physical place.

And that means having an understanding of their online environment and how to make it safe.  You can’t abdicate responsibility to software or service providers, you need to make sure you’re switched on to the ways young people are communicating with each other so that if they tell you they’re being bullied, you know how to react.


Dealing with online bullying

Your reaction to online bullying shouldn’t differ greatly from your reaction to a disclosure of any other types of bullying. It’s important to focus on the behaviour and the impact it’s had, and not get hung up on ‘how’ or ‘where’ the bullying has taken place. Remember if your child is being bullied online, it’s possible that they’re also experiencing bullying offline, at times by the same people for the same reasons; it’s not always exclusive.

However, when bullying has taken place online, there are some additional, practical steps you can take to resolve the situation. This is where the time you spend connecting with the places they go online and the devices they use comes in very useful. If you haven’t and it is only after a problem has taken place, there are many easy to follow videos online you can use to learn how to make profiles private or save messages and pictures.

Go through any messages, posts or pictures that they have received and kept. If you feel that any of these messages or pictures can be construed as illegal then keep copies, dates, times, email addresses or phone numbers and take them to the police.

Ask them to share any further messages with you. Reassure them that you won’t over react; you are not trying to invade their privacy but help resolve what is happening. You might want to reply to these messages but 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 that the child or young person knows and sees on a regular basis, it might be worth involving other agencies. If both parties are at school, it will be helpful to make the school aware of the problems, if they’re not already, and involve them in the plan of what to do.

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. This support, and their experience of how the situation is addressed and resolved, begins as soon as they tell you that they are being bullied.


Important Points to Discuss with Children and Young People

Online relationships are no different from relationships off-line For most young people, the friends they have online will be the people they know, they may connect with people they do not know when they share interests in music, films or football for example. People online are still real people and they should be treated with the same level of respect and consideration as they would if they were in the same room.

Be mindful of the fact that you are communicating differently Without the benefit of being able to read gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, it is easy to misinterpret what may be seen on the screen, for example typing in CAPITAL LETTERS can often be seen as shouting. Young people use pictures a lot to express their feelings and likes also and apps like Instagram, Tumblr and twitter are great for this. They may need help in understanding the impact of what they mean to say and what they actually write. Sarcasm does not translate well.

Never give away personal information Don’t give out personal information about yourself or another person, their family or friends. This might include where they live, their phone numbers or private email addresses. It is also important never to give your private passwords to anyone, including friends or other people that you might trust. This includes letting boyfriends or girlfriends know your passwords, they might say it is about trust but it might really be about controlling and monitoring who your child is talking to. They may inadvertently pass it on to other people who can then access your child’s account and change information or send messages in their name.

If you wouldn’t say it, don’t send it People can act in a way that they wouldn’t usually act when they’re online, many children and young people do not believe they will be caught for bullying online and they do not fully appreciate just how permanent what they say online is. Some do choose to remain anonymous and try to conceal their identity. Ask your child - would you say this if the person was sitting in front of you? If they answer no, tell them ‘don’t send it’.

There’s a history so it can be traced Everything sent and posted online or through text message can be traced. There’s no such thing as anonymity – even a fake email account and information will have a unique IP address from your service provider. People can be traced through your IP address or a SIM card. Children and young people need to be aware of the consequences of posting messages online.

What will happen if you are being bullied online? Discuss what will happen if your child approaches you about a bullying incident. Some children and young people fear that access to the internet or their phone will be taken away, and this can make them reluctant to come forward. Be mindful of this. Remember bullying happens ‘to’ someone, it impacts on them as a person –it is not a technology issue but a people issue. As a parent or carer you should also discuss your child’s internet and mobile phone usage. Take an interest in how they use it, what they do online, what sites they like to visit and why. These general conversations can open up the 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; an agreement about how smart phones, laptops or other devices will be used and what will happen if they are misused.


Practical steps

Make their profile ‘private’ As already stated, profiles should always be made private so that only people who have been accepted as ‘friends’ can access them. If pages are ‘public’, or you leave the default settings in place, you are giving access to anyone who wishes to access/view your page. Having an agreement on profiles being private should be discussed with your child before they sign up.

Make sure ’Location Services’ are turned off You should also make sure their social media sites do not have ‘Locations Services’ on, this prevents anyone from finding out exactly where they posted from. Remember the default settings for social networking sites are not set to private, so sit down with your child and take steps to make their pages private before they start using them.

Delete any comments or posts on their page Users can delete messages if they are nasty, offensive or they just don’t want them to appear on their page.

‘Block’ users or numbers Users can effectively deny access to people formerly regarded as ‘friends’ from seeing, reading, commenting on or posting messages to their page or contacting them. Blocking sounds like a very simple and straightforward response but the reality for many children and young people is that blocking can be seen as socially unacceptable. You need to be mindful of this and explore how they feel about it, and any other choices they can consider instead.

Report Abuse Many social networks allow users to report any content, postings or comments that appear on their own page or other sites that they think contravene the terms and conditions of the site, or which they consider to be illegal, offensive, harassing or bullying in nature. Social networking sites rely on users making use of these tools to effectively ‘police’ the site as they don’t have the capacity to monitor each and every profile every day. In general, they 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. Find out more here


Parental Settings

You can also use something like Microsoft Family Safety for lap tops and devices at home. This allows you to set limits on the hours children and young people can use web browsers, how long they can spend online, and age limits for games and YouTube content. This software will also send you an email update each week on the websites they have visited. You can block websites such as Facebook or Twitter if you feel your child is too young to be using these.

If your child is a gamer – X Box live or Play Station Plus has parental settings that let you control times, age restrictions and access to the internet through the consoles. This includes who they can or cannot talk to online. There are great videos on sites such as YouTube that explain how to use these very easily.

Managing settings takes time, and it can be tempting to let your child get on with it, but taking the time to find out where they go online and how you can make it safe will help you both manage boundaries. It will increase your skills and knowledge of the world they are visiting and will make you more confident to deal with challenges and issues that arise.

If you take the time to do this, you can feel more confident about how safe your child is online and you are also talking to them about where they go and what they like doing – this will hopefully remove some of the fear around the issue.