The stories lately have been shocking. A few weeks ago 14-year-old Hannah Smith, from Lutterworth, took her own life after being bullied by trolls on the internet.
Her father says he had no idea she was suffering until he found bullying posts on her ask.fm page.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Daniel Perry, from Dunfermline, committed suicide after being blackmailed and bullied online.
Both of these tragic youngsters were loved and popular with everything to live for – just like your children, and mine.
It’s easy to dismiss these horrors as something that happens to other people. Your kids are fine, right?
Hopefully, but Daniel and Hannah’s families probably thought the same thing too. And for them it’s too late.
Speaking about Hannah, Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “The cruel nature of cyberbullying allows perpetrators to remain anonymous and hide behind their screens.
“This is something that must be tackled before it gets out of hand. We must ensure young people have the confidence to speak out against this abuse, so they don’t feel isolated and without anywhere to turn.”
An internet troll is someone who, acting anonymously uses shock tactics to abuse and offend online. The more anger and distress they can cause the more successful they consider themselves to be.
How do you tell if your child is a victim?
All the information urges you to look for changes in mood or behaviour. This is all very well, but in my experience teens and tweens can change on a whim making it very difficult to tell what’s normal and what’s not.
BeatBullying has some tips for things to watch out for that might set the alarm bells ringing.
Physical signs. Youngsters who are being picked on often show general evidence of ill heath, complaining of feeling unwell for no apparent reason. Don’t dismiss it.
Emotional signs. You might find them becoming angry and aggressive themselves, possibly even picking on others. They may show nerves or anxiety, or depression and weepiness.
Behavioural signs. Typically bullied children become withdrawn and uncommunicative; however, they may also display different eating habits or alcohol and drug use. There may be violence or self harm.
Perhaps it’s just your instinct that something isn’t right. And a parent’s feeling is just as important as any actual signs and symptoms. Trust what you’re feeling.
However, knowing something is amiss is all very well, but it’s a huge step to get a worried and scared teenager to open up and talk about it.
How to talk to your child about cyberbullies.
Obviously the best situation is that you have an open and trusting relationship with your youngsters where they freely discuss what they do online and let you know as soon as something happens they are unhappy about.
However, it’s never as simple as that. Firstly few teenagers want to discuss everything with their parents, they need privacy and space to develop as adults. Secondly, they may be very open and trusting while there’s nothing untoward to talk about but as soon as things go wrong, they might feel ashamed and frightened.
Think U Know – the information arm of CEOP (The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) – has some suggests for getting conversations going and some videos that might offer talking points.
Recognise how hard it might be for your child to talk to you, so praise them and don’t judge. Try not to react too much and don’t interrupt.
Don’t fly off the handle. Consider your response because your child might be worried that you might make matters worse.
Try to let them know that they have the right to stop what’s going on and to get help. Reassure that you are there to help.
Work with your child to find a solution – let them know they aren’t facing it alone.
The bottom line is that if your instinct tells you your child needs help, don’t ignore it. However, do control your instinct to dive in and take control – work with your youngster.
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