February 9, 2018


What should I do if my child is a cyberbully?

You’ve found out your child is bullying another online. Here’s what you need to do.

Hannah Thomas, The University of Queensland and James Graham Scott, The University of Queensland

Cyberbullying has become a significant issue for young people learning to navigate a life that is increasingly online. Like bullying that occurs face-to-face, cyberbullying can have serious effects on the physical and mental health of victims.

Cyberbullying in isolation is very uncommon. Of young people who report being bullied, a clear majority have said it occurred face-to-face (71.5%). Over a quarter experienced bullying face-to-face and online (27.4%), and a very small percentage experienced cyberbullying only (1.1%).

It’s important we don’t focus on cyberbullying alone, and instead address the fundamentals of bullying more widely. Essential to tackling this complex issue is understanding which kids bully and why they do it.

Which kids bully?

All kids are capable of bullying. A study over seven years showed a majority of kids bully others at some point during their time at school. Many stop as they grow older, but just as many continue. Those who consistently bully their peers over the long-term are learning to use their power to control and harm others. This pattern of behaviour can continue into adulthood.

To complicate things further, it’s common for those who perpetrate bullying to also be victims of bullying. Our research suggests this is the case for at least 50% of young people who perpetrate bullying. Young people who are victimised and perpetrate bullying are at the greatest risk of mental health problems.

Read more:
Teenagers who are both bully and victim are more likely to have suicidal thoughts

Why do kids bully?

Bullying can be a successful way to achieve high social status or peer acceptance. It’s most effective for achieving social dominance when used in combination with “pro-social” behaviour such as helping, sharing, and cooperating with others.

A young person’s pro-social behaviour helps to reconcile their bullying behaviour once their dominance is established. This group of individuals are socially skilled and generally have high levels of popularity among their peers.

Bullying can be used to increase social standing. from www.shutterstock.com

There is also a second group of individuals who perpetrate bullying, but they are less successful in raising their social status. Their aggressive behaviour towards their peers is often impulsive and over-reactive, and they tend to report being victims of bullying themselves. These are the individuals who are most likely to have behavioural and mental health problems.

Kids who bully their peers are not all the same. These two groups need different responses by parents and teachers in order to address the bullying behaviour. The first group need to be redirected to achieve their desired social status among their peers using only pro-social behaviour. The second group needs support to help them establish and maintain positive relationships with their peers.

What can parents do?

Digital technology is now a central part of most young peoples’ lives. Parents need to show patience and curiosity about their child’s online behaviour.

Parents must be clear that bullying is always unacceptable. But, they should also try to see the situation through their child’s eyes, as young people may not have the maturity to fully consider the consequences of their actions.

Read more:
A parent’s guide to why teens make bad decisions

Children will often try to justify their behaviour, so a parent’s role is to help them develop empathy for others.

This requires ongoing discussions and encouraging the child to reflect on how their behaviour makes others feel. It is unhelpful for the child to be shamed or to ban access to the technology. This kind of response prevents the child from opportunities to learn responsible online behaviour.

But, parents must take charge in setting the conditions of using technology. This includes monitoring its use until a time when the young person shows they can manage their online behaviour responsibly.

If the behaviour continues, then it may be necessary to involve health professionals and the child’s school. It’s better for parents to be proactive in taking steps to manage the behaviour rather than waiting for other systems to step in (education or police).

The ConversationOnline interactions are complex. Young people need parents to support them in making good choices about how they conduct themselves online. Strengthening parents’ skills in effectively managing issues of cyberbullying is an important part of the solution.

Hannah Thomas, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland and James Graham Scott, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Share your comments below

  • We need to be good role models as parents to our children.


  • Yes, we as parents need to teach our kids empathy, sensible & kind behaviour. We should check how they use their devices as well and have conversations about it and where needed limit it.


  • I strongly agree that parents need to teach empathy and set the boundaries for how technology is used by their children (and monitor it!) I don’t agree that confiscating technology is the answer. Kids these days have wifi everywhere they go – school, maccas, most major town centres and can easily access their friend’s platforms. They haven’t learned anything if you haven’t taught them why it’s wrong or how other’s would feel by writing that. It’s hard to parent in this tech savy world but parents have to do try and do it consistently.


  • For a start, confiscate their technology gadgets. Try to have a calm conversation with them and in the ask why it started and if there are others involved in doing the bullying. There may be a group, not just your child doing it. Yours may have been the only one “caught” and copping the blame for others as well. Your child needs to understand that the bullying is not suitable behaviour….and hopefully will apologise to the victim. Sometimes the victim might retaliate as they don’t know the best way to handle it.


Post a comment
Like Facebook page

LIKE MoM on Facebook

Please enter your comment below
Would you like to include a photo?
No picture uploaded yet.
Please wait to see your image preview here before hitting the submit button.
Your MoM account

Lost your password?

Enter your email and a password below to post your comment and join MoM:

You May Like


Looks like this may be blocked by you browser or content filtering.

↥ Back to top

Thanks For Your Star Rating!

Would you like to add a written rating or just a star rating?

Write A Rating Just A Star Rating