Parents whose own children fall victim to cyberbullying can suddenly find themselves in an especially difficult situation, agonizing as they try to learn exactly what their daughter or son is going through – and, most importantly, as they try to help.
The world in which today's children and adolescents move includes the internet and social media. In a very real sense, the internet and social media have become part and parcel of their real world. Listening to music, chatting, watching videos, gaming, learning ... young people now do all of these things via their smartphones and the internet, and they look at their phones countless times every day. But some young people feel anxiety every time they look at their phone. What insulting mail, hateful comment or abusive group-chat interactions will they have to see next? In short, what kind of cyberbullying will they have to see or even suffer? According to the recent JIM study*, about 2.2 million school pupils are now affected by cyberbullying in one form or another.
A guide: Cyberbullying – how to help your child
Do you suspect that your child is being victimized via cyberbullying? Here's what you can do:
- Be there for your child
Show sympathy and empathy. Refrain from being judgmental or critical. Speak with your son or daughter. Ask them to explain the situation, and to tell you when the abusive messages began. Show your support – but don't take away their cell phone and internet privileges. In many cases, a fear of losing their phone and internet privileges is what keeps children from informing their parents about cyberbullying and related incidents.
- Look for answers
Together with your child, look for possible ways of addressing the situation. Who at your child's school should be made aware of what is going on? Could it be a good idea to speak to the parents of the person doing the cyberbullying? Who might be able to provide some good advice? What strategies might be available for countering future abuse?
In the case of children affected by cyberbullying, the victims usually know who is behind the abuse. In most cases, the bullies are acquaintances, such as classmates. If that is the case, look for a way to clear the air. Contact the bully's parents. And contact the school. It can also be helpful to have your child's class talk about the problem of cyberbullying.
- Get help
Remember that you are not alone. Various contact points and experts stand ready to help, with precisely the experience and expertise you need. A number of such contact points are cooperating partners of Deutsche Telekom. These partners, who welcome your enquiries, include:
• Nummer gegen Kummer ("number against worry"), an advice hotline and website that welcomes anonymous callers.
• Juuuport, a site that offers peer-to-peer advising, on an anonymous basis, with regard to online problems such as cyberbullying.
• klicksafe, a site that offers an overview of points of contact and tips on ways to deal with cyberbullying.
• exclamo, an organization that offers an app, suitable for both schools and individual pupils, that provides a safe, non-threatening environment for discussion of topics such as cyberbullying and mental and physical abuse. The app also includes a range of informational materials, useful links and contact data, and it serves as a preventively oriented resource for the classroom.
- Report the problem
If threatening, abusive or otherwise defamatory comments have been posted about your child, inform the platform operator. Many platforms offer functions – accessible, for example, as buttons near posts – for reporting hateful posts.
Otherwise, check the website's contact details to learn how to contact the operator and submit such reports. Most operators will react promptly, seeking to avoid being held legally co-responsible. In many cases, objectionable posts can be reported to an administrator. This option is available with Facebook groups, for example. And if an operator fails to act on your report, you can turn to various complaints bodies, such as www.jugendschutz.net.
- Make a record of the incident
Be sure to save the objectionable comments, images or messages. You can do this by making screenshots, for example. Also be sure to note down all other relevant and available information, such as the identity(ies) of the perpetrator(s), the time period involved and the platform in question.
- If all else fails: File a formal complaint
If the above measures fail to provide the desired results, and your child continues to be targeted by insults, threats or infringements on his or her personal rights, do not hesitate to file a formal complaint. To do so, you need to arm yourself with any and all available details relating to the incident – such as screenshots, names, the time and date, etc. – so that you can provide the requisite proof.
Cyberbullying can have serious impacts on people. Words should not be used as weapons. Stand up for yourself and your child.
*Research source: The 2019 JIM Study ("JIM-Studie 2019"), carried out by Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverbund Südwest (mpfs), www.mpfs.de. The study surveyed young people aged 12 to 19.