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What did children and young people tell us about their experiences of cyberbullying?

During the consultation process, carried out while developing this guidance for schools, Childnet staff talked to primary- and secondary-aged pupils from London and Leicester about their views on cyberbullying. These views are included to give a young person’s perspective on the issue of cyberbullying.

Many of the pupils had experienced cyberbullying personally, or had friends who had been cyberbullied. The vast majority of the children and young people used mobile phones and the internet on a regular basis. Most of them believed that they understood the technology better than their teachers and parents, and many reported helping teachers or parents with mobile phones and websites.

Reasons given for why young people might not tell someone they are being cyberbullied:

  • They were scared of making the situation worse, for themselves or for other people.
  • They had been threatened about what would happen if they did tell anyone.
  • They felt ashamed about their own behaviour.
  • If it was something rude, they often did not want to tell their mum – they felt too embarrassed to have conversations about things like that.
  • They were worried it might be their fault and that they would also get punished, or that they had done something to deserve it.
  • They were worried that grown-ups would not understand what had happened to them and that they would not be able to explain it properly.
  • They were worried that grown-ups would be dismissive of cyberbullying because it ‘was only words’ and that their feelings would be dismissed as silly.
  • They were scared that the person cyberbullying them might hurt them physically.
  • They didn’t know who to tell.
  • They felt “closed up inside”, and didn’t know how to explain what was happening to them.
  • They felt too depressed to be able to do anything about the cyberbullying.
  • The thing they were being cyberbullied about was true and they didn’t want everyone to know.
  • They were being ganged up on by a group and were too scared to tell anyone.
  • They were worried that adults would not believe them.

What did children and young people say they would do to help someone they knew was being cyberbullied?

Positive approaches:

  • Some of the young people saw that supporting and befriending the victim was very important – making sure that the victim did not feel alone, talking through what had happened with them and trying to cheer them up. They identified that feeling isolated and depressed made positive action more difficult for the person involved.
  • Nearly all the children and young people recognised that telling someone with more authority than them would be the best way to help the victim. They named a range of people, including the police, teachers, grown-ups they liked, their parents, and their head teacher.
  • In some cases they felt safer contacting expert groups – they talked about phoning ChildLine, and also emailing Childnet International.
  • Many of the children said that they would report what had happened to the people running the website or to the phone company.
  • Giving advice to the person being cyberbullied was seen as a useful thing that they could do – this included telling the person being bullied not to reply or get involved; to save any messages; and to take ‘print screen’ images for evidence.

Approaches to be cautious of:

  • Some children and young people said that they would take responsibility for sorting the problem out themselves directly. This included talking with the person doing the cyberbullying and trying to get them to see what they were doing was wrong.
  • Some young people suggested passing the problem on to older brothers and sisters to sort out.

Young people need to know that they are not expected to sort out problems on their own, but that they will be helped and supported by adults.

Dangerous Approaches:

  • Some children and young people said that they would cyberbully the person back, or beat up the person doing the cyberbullying.
  • Others said that they would do nothing – they would be too scared of being bullied themselves to get involved.