Data from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that as many as 92% of children and teenagers go online every day, leaving parents with a whole new range of issues to worry about when it comes to keeping them safe. From hackings and online fraud to cyberbullying, new challenges are always emerging, challenges that parents and children didn’t have to worry about a decade ago.

Young people are sharing more personal information online than ever before and in many cases, this has made them even more vulnerable to cyberbullying. In fact, the study from FOSI also revealed that one million children and teens were bullied on Facebook alone in just one year. The key problem is, cyberbullying is more than just upsetting remarks in the playground, it can become very targeted and means that young people can be reached from anywhere at any time.

This can have devastating consequences and online bullying has been linked to deeper issues in children and teens such as depression, drug use and even suicide. While parents might wish to ban their children from going online altogether, this is not a long term solution and in today’s digital world can be almost impossible.

As such, they need to learn healthy and effective ways to support their children when using the internet. How can this be done? Below, we’ve put together a guide on six ways parents can protect their children from online bullying.

1. Set out healthy boundaries

The best possible way to prevent cyberbullying is to set healthy boundaries early on. Don’t let your children become addicted to spending time on their phones, tablets or laptops from an early age, otherwise, this habit will become harder to break later in life. Setting reasonable limits and encouraging them to take up other past times can ensure your child has a sense of self outside of their online identity, which is very important in a world where young people are increasingly comparing themselves to others online and basing their self worth on followers, likes and engagement on social media platforms.

It’s also a good idea to set boundaries with regards to who they can connect with online and how much information they can share. Granted this can be harder to police as your children get older, but when they’re younger make sure they know the rules of using social media. For example, don’t accept friend requests from strangers, don’t share inappropriate content or pictures and don’t be unkind to those who are sharing things online.

By reducing the time spent using technology, setting boundaries about what they can do on social media and by encouraging your kids to have other interests outside of these digital platforms, you reduce the likelihood of them falling victim to cyberbullying.

2. Educate them on mental health and social media

There has traditionally been a taboo around talking about mental health issues, but as more and more people open up about their experiences, the stigma around poor mental health is lifting. Educating your child around the symptoms of some of the main illnesses, for example, depression and anxiety can help them to spot the signs if they begin to feel low or confused.

It’s also important that you teach them about platforms like Facebook and Instagram and how there are bad people out there that could exploit these platforms to hurt their feelings. This will help to further lift the stigma of mental health and bullying and will encourage your child to come forward if they ever feel like the online world is affecting their mental wellbeing, particularly if this is a result of cyberbullying.

3. Watch for changes in behaviour

If you notice that your child is becoming increasingly upset, angry or withdrawn, these could all be signs that something is wrong. In these cases, you need to monitor their internet usage to see how long they’re spending online, what they’re doing online and whether their behaviour changes once they’ve been on social media and other platforms of this nature. These changes in behaviour could be a crucial sign that you need to talk to your child about the possibility of cyberbullying and address what’s going on.

4. Look for teachable moments

Whether personal or sharing a story from someone else, it can be a good idea to make the most of teachable moments. We are increasingly hearing about cases of cyberbullying  in the media and if you feel it’s appropriate to talk to your child about these (providing they aren’t too harsh or upsetting), then take these opportunities to get a dialogue going about the consequences of online bullying, what is and isn’t appropriate online and what they should do if they ever found themselves in that situation. You might also wish to share personal tales of bullying, again, if these aren’t going to be too upsetting to both parties. 

5. Keep the lines of communication open

You need to make sure your child feels comfortable coming forward and talking to you if they are experiencing bullying in any form, but particularly online. It’s therefore important to always keep the lines of communication open and let them know they can tell you anything without judgement. If they do tell you they are being bullied or they know someone that is, it’s vital that you act in a calm and rational manner and let them know they did the right thing by telling you.

6. Teach them it’s OK not to be friends with everyone online

If your child has been the victim of online bullying, no matter how severe, you need to put measures in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again in the future. You also need to check in on them and make sure it hasn’t knocked their confidence or damaged their mental wellbeing too much. To protect them in the future, teach them it’s OK to block people that are being unkind and to report messages or content that are hurtful.

Sometimes there is pressure to have the most online friends and to accept all your classmates because you’ll look unkind or anti-social if you don’t. But teaching children and teenagers that their happiness must come first is a big step to protecting them online. Once they understand that social media and similar platforms are meant to be fun, they can better understand how to avoid or block damaging people and interactions. Just be sure to monitor their usage if this is the case.

7. Make sure you’ve got security measures in place

Lastly, although it might not be able to prevent any upsetting private messages from coming through, using the right cybersecurity systems can help you to block any inappropriate content. This way, if your child is being sent offensive or inappropriate images, videos or other content, your security systems can block this before they see it. This can give all parents peace of mind that their children aren’t being sent/seeing upsetting imagery online.