Tor-mental problems: Protecting children from online bullying

I have never claimed to be an expert in cyberbullying but I often get asked to do media interviews on the topic (often in connection to high profile cases involving trolling). Any of us that have spent time online can think of incidents where things have escalated on Facebook and other social media. Cyberbullying typically refers to a child being tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child using digital technology such as the internet or mobile phones. The methods used are limited only by the child’s imagination and access to technology. More worryingly, cyber-bullying has been on the increase over the last few years.

The media often ask me for insight in to why that tends to happen in these situations and the psychology behind people interacting online as opposed to face-to-face. For example do people tend to feel more protected online? Do they tend to take on a different identity? One of the main reasons why behaviour online is very different from it offline is because it provides a ‘disinhibiting’ experience. This is where people lower their emotional guard and become much less inhibited in their actions. The main reason for this well known phenomenon is because when people are interacting with others online it is non-face-to-face, it is perceived as a very anonymous environment, and it is non-threatening. On the positive side, this disinhibition process can lead people to develop deep and complex emotional attachments and can even fall in love online. On the negative side, people may carry out behaviours online that they would never dream of doing offline including, in some instances, criminal behaviour such as cyber-bullying in online social networking sites.

The other things I tend to get asked are how common cyberbullying is and what sort of people tend to get involved in online bullying. Research here in the UK and US has shown that about 10% of children and teenagers have been cyber-bullied in the previous month (across all technological media including social media) with about one in six children being cyber-bullied at least once in their lifetime. As children get older the incidence of cyberbullying increases as a greater proportion of older children have access to mobile phones and the internet. Some studies have shown as many as 95% of teenagers on social networking sites have witnessed cruel behaviour and 55% witness this type of behaviour frequently. Amongst teenagers, some research appears to suggest that online cyberbullies are slightly more likely to be girls than boys although findings are a little inconsistent. There is also some research showing that up to one in five teenagers will also join in and cyberbully after an initial abusive post by someone else. Other research studies have found that of all the types of cyberbullying, most of it (approximately 85%) is now done on social networking sites rather than emails and texts. Cyberbullying is not usually a one-off communication, unless it involves a death threat or a threat of serious bodily harm. Children often know it when they see it, while parents may be more worried about the crude language used by children (rather than the hurtful effect of rude and embarrassing posts or texts has on their children).

In preventing cyberbullying via social media, schools can work with the parents to stop and remedy cyberbullying situations. All schools need to amend policies against bullying to include social media (as well as the internet more generally and text messaging abuse), with training for teachers and pupils on handling it. Unfortunately there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution as there are many different forms of cyberbullying. However, there are a number of basic things that parents can do. As with other types of bullying it is important for parents to listen to their child and react with sympathy even when it is online in sites like Facebook. If you are a parent like me, you can try the following tips to help keep your child safe as you can from cyberbullying:

  • Get your son or daughter to show you any offensive or abusive post they’ve received and keep a record of them as evidence.
  • Tell your child never to respond to any abusive post as this is often what the bully wants the victim to do.
  • Tell your son or daughter to avoid giving their name, email address or mobile phone number on social networking sites to people outside their trusted circle of family and friends.
  • Try to identify the individual doing the cyberbullying.
  • Consider contacting the cyberbully’s parents. Their parents may be very concerned to learn that their child has been cyberbullying others in social networking sites, and may be able put a stop to it.
  • Change email address or mobile number if the cyberbullying continues.
  • Where possible, use blocking software to prevent the cyberbully getting abusive material through in the first place.
  • Even if the cyberbully is anonymous – using a fake name or someone else’s identity for example – there may be a way to track them through your service provider.
  • Report any cyberbullying to your child’s school, the service provider and/or the site moderator.
  • If all else fails, contact the police – especially if it involves threats of violence, extortion, obscene or harassing messages or pornography.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Adrian, A. (2010). Beyond griefing: Virtual crime. Computer Law and Security Review, 26, 640-648.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Cyberbullying – what to do if your child is targeted and tormented. Nottingham Evening Post, March 31, pp.14-15.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Why do people turn nasty [in social media]?. Nottingham Post, June 28, p.8.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Adolescent trolling in online environments: A brief overview. Education and Health, 32, 85-87.

Herring, S., Job-Sluder, K., Scheckler, R. & Barab, S. (2002). Searching for safety online: Managing “Trolling” in a feminist forum. The Information Society, 18, 371-384.

Millman, C., Whitty, M., Winder, B. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Perceived criminality of cyber-harassing behaviours among undergraduate students in the United Kingdom. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 2(4), 49-59.

Rice, L. (2013). It’s time for more Lolz NOT trolls. vinspired, January 13. Located at:

Shachaf, P. & Hara, N. (2010). Beyond vandalism: Wikipedia trolls. Journal of Information Science, 36(3), 357-370.

Thacker, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory study of trolling in online video gaming. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, in press.

Widyanto, L., & Griffiths, M. D. (2011). An empirical study of problematic internet use and self-esteem. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 1(1), 13-24.

Willard, N. (2006). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: responding to the challenge of online social cruelty, threats, and distress. Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on July 6, 2015, in Adolescence, Case Studies, Crime, Cyberpsychology, Gender differences, I.T., Pain, Psychology, Social Networking, Technology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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