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Cyberbullying – what it is and what to do!

Keeping our Kids Safe on the Internet

Online safety and cyberbullying expert Brett Lee of INESS (Internet Education and Safety Services, Brisbane) highlights the essential role parents must have in their children’s online lives to identify, understand and protect them from cyberbullying risks

Gone are the days when it was optional as to whether our children would be part on an online world, it is now an ingrained and essential component of their lives both educationally and socially.  Schools are giving students access to monitored sites for educational purposes and the expectation is that more and more, as they get older, our children will want access at home too! The internet has opened up a world for our children whereby they can connect with others in ways, in places and at times that never would have been possible only a few short years ago. With this in mind we must always be conscious as a parent that our children may be exposed to others online who choose to misuse technology to cyberbully our children.

What is cyberbullying?


The Department of Education, Training and Employment in 2013 defined cyberbullying as when ‘technology, such as email, mobile phones, chat rooms and social networking sites, are used to verbally or socially bully another person. Bullying is an ongoing abuse of power to threaten or harm another person.’ Some behaviours online will definitely stand out to us as being cyberbullying, however, some activities may not be so obvious and may fly under the radar.  What we can use as a gauge to ascertain whether our children are being expose cyberbullying is to understand that the issue is not just about how others are behaving towards our children, it’s about the emotional effects that this behaviour in having on them.

How can parents spot it?

Issues created by cyberbullying manifest in the real world such as changes in diet, sleep, mood, self confidence and a drop in school results.  These changes may or may not be attributed to cyberbullying but should always be considered as a possibility.  Cyberbullying can have debilitating effect on our young people due to the very private and sometimes lonely world that sitting behind a screen can create.

Is online behaviour that constitutes cyberbullying illegal?

Yes, there is no grey area.  Although legislation may not mention the word ‘cyberbullying’ there are a number of offences, both state and federal that can be applied to the act of cyberbullying. The key Commonwealth law is ‘Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence’ (Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)). This is very clear and applies to those 10 years of age or older.

What can a parent do if they suspect cyberbullying?

We as parents have a vital role when it comes to our children having an educational, fun and safe time online. To help identify and solve cyberbullying issues we must remember the following:

You have a right as a parent to be part of your child’s online experience and to give them boundaries within it. If others know that a responsible parent may see what’s happening it can dissuade them from making your child a target.

Create an open digital environment within your home and empower your children to talk to you about online issues, mistakes and problems.  You can only help if you know.

Take action early. You can create a safe, productive, entertaining and fun environment for your child.  This is a community issue. If in doubt utilise family members, school communities and help agencies to assist in solving the problem.

What if your child is bullying others?

It can be upsetting to be told that your child has bullied others. Children who use bullying behaviours need support to learn better ways of relating to others. Stay calm and learn more about your child’s behaviour so that any bullying behaviours can be addressed. Bullying is complex and changing. Children can do the bullying in one situation and be targeted by bullying in another.

Children who bully others need help to:

  • develop their social and emotional skills (especially conflict resolution) and be taught ways to treat others with respect without causing harm
  • learn about the effect of their behaviour on others and to be supported while learning to repair the harm they have caused
  • be held responsible for their behaviour and the harm they have caused.

Where can we get help?

Sometimes, you or your child might want to talk to someone outside the school about what is happening. The following organisations can provide support.

Kids Helpline (ages 5 to 25 years)
1800 55 1800 (free call except from some mobile phones)
24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Parentline Queensland and Northern Territory
1300 30 1300 (cost of a local call)
8am to 10pm, seven days a week

Safety reporting links:

Facebook – www.facebook.com/safety

Instagram http://help.instagram.com/547601325292351

YouTube www.youtube.com/t/contact_us

Twitter https://support.twitter.com/forms/abusiveuser

Tumblr www.tumblr.com/help

Moshi Monsters – www.moshimonsters.com/parents

Club Penguin – www.clubpenguin.com/parents

Instant Messaging – for chat application, click on the ‘Help’ tab and select the ‘report abuse’ option.

Mobile phone – call the network provider and ask for ‘complaints dept. to report abuse’.

For more information and support – www.cybersmart.gov.au/Parents.aspx and www.bullyingnoway.gov.au

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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