Quite often, teachers can be the first to suspect that a child is having a bad time. Children who are being bullied online could become withdrawn, isolating themselves from their peers, or seeming more tired or distracted in class. They could actually behave differently, or become angry or upset more easily. If you suspect someone you are teaching may be being bullied online, here is some advice from the Professionals Online Safety Helpline.
What’s the policy?
It is good practice to familiarise yourself with school policies, where to find them and what the procedures are. Every school should have a bullying policy (sometimes included in the behaviour policy) which will help you guide your response to the situation, while ensuring you are acting in the best interest of the child and the school.
If bullying is taking place online it is worth remembering that it could continue outside of school when you are not there to support the child, so be sensitive in your approach as they might have been dealing with this for a while. You don’t want to make it worse for them.
Protection or punishment?
In bullying cases that are playing out online, we often see that as a response the person being bullied is asked to come off social media in order to stop the harmful communications. While this seems like a sensible idea, it can sometimes feel to the young person that they are the ones being punished, taking away access to social media that they otherwise enjoy. This may also be where they get support from online friends not involved in the bullying. In the long run this could mean that if something like this ever happened again, they may be reluctant to seek help or tell you what’s going on for fear of being “punished” again.
There are some very practical steps you can take that can help the child feel empowered again. Report and block the user online, and take a screenshot of any of the bullying, that way if it does go further you have evidence, without them having to keep it on their social media. Advise them not to retaliate, this often makes things worse.
Not every child has an adult they feel they can trust, and sometimes parents are the last people they want to tell. Be wary of this when offering support, if you notice something but they don’t feel comfortable talking to you, ask who they would like to talk to, give the control back to them. Similarly, if you can see a child is struggling but they don’t have someone to trust and tell, maybe you can nominate yourself and let them know you can be that person for them. If there is a very serious safeguarding concern this should be dealt with as per your school procedures.
You might also notice similar behaviours in children who are doing the bullying themselves. Remember, a child isn’t a bully, they are bullying, it is a behaviour, not a personality trait. While you have a duty to intervene and stop any abuse happening, you also have a duty to this child. Consider what is going on for them, do they also need your help and support?
If you would like to talk to us about a concern for a child, you can contact the Professionals Online Safety Helpline for free, confidential advice.