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Supporting young people to stay safe from bullying

The rise of social media and online communication has changed how bullying occurs. Find out more about the different types of bullying and what you can do to support your child if they experience bullying either in or outside of the classroom.

NEWS 29 Feb 2024

Most adults can think back to a time in their life where they witnessed — or had to deal with — bullying. For many of us, these experiences happened at school or as part of our childhood. While schools and communities continue to take great steps to stop bullying, young people today still might find themselves navigating the challenges of this kind of behaviour. Not only that, the rise of online communication and social media over the past few decades has changed the way bullying can take place in and out of school — often more easily out of sight from teachers, school staff and parents too.

Some things have not changed though. For a start, parents and trusted adults can still support their children in navigating bullying and recognising the ways bullying might be affecting their children. Alongside this, Haileybury is as committed as ever to creating a safe, caring and open environment for students.

Here is a closer look at what bullying looks like for today’s young people — and how we can help children to navigate this sort of behaviour.

What is (and isn’t) bullying?

It is a big question — with a broad answer. In short, bullying is when a person or group repeatedly and intentionally uses their words or actions to negatively impact another person or group’s wellbeing. It is the ongoing misuse of power (or perceived power) in any form of relationship, often to the extent that the person or people being subject to this bullying feel like they cannot stop it from happening.

Bullying can occur in person or online and can either be obvious or hidden. It can have harmful effects, both short- and long-term, on those being targeted, or who are witnessing the bullying taking place.

The main features of bullying are defined as a power imbalance in a relationship, and repeated, harmful behaviours. This definition helps to distinguish what is not bullying — which could include one-off instances of mean or rude behaviour, conflict or constructive feedback. Even something like the setting of boundaries can be misinterpreted as bullying, when it is likely that this is not the case.

What is cyberbuylling?

Cyberbullying is categorised by the same principles as bullying in general (a power imbalance, repeated behaviour and harmful intent), only it takes place entirely in the digital world through phones, online and using social media.

Cyberbullying takes many forms, but could include spreading gossip online, exclusion (like being left out of group chats), harassment and repeated unkind texts, creating fake accounts or posting content using another person’s name, sharing pictures or videos that the young person has not agreed to being shared, or posting memes, altered pictures or videos which reference a young person.

Besides being so varied in the ways it can take shape, cyberbullying can be difficult to monitor or combat for several reasons. Firstly, many parents do not have complete visibility over their child’s online activity. Another thing to consider is the volume of modern friendships and connections that exist in the world of online and social media. For many young people, these channels are an extension of the relationships they build in-person — but that brings with it the risk of cyberbullying.

“This is something that did not exist when many parents were children. In particular, bullying online can take place 24/7 and the child can never escape this, unlike in the past when they would come home from school. There is also the anonymity of some types of bullying, which is especially scary and can be very dangerous”

Helping young people to navigate social media and online bullying

It is a normal part of a young person’s journey towards adulthood that they want to be the same as their peers and assert some more independence and autonomy. Engaging in online activity and social media is often a key part of this development — although this then opens up avenues for bullying that can be more difficult to moderate.

Which is why it is so important that parents embrace the opportunity to set clear boundaries around their child’s social media usage and how to stay safe online. Besides making sure young people are aware of the various forms of cyberbullying if they are going to use social media and connect online, you might choose to learn about the social media apps or sites being used yourself. This helps build awareness for how the apps are used, and makes it easier for you to talk about them in your child’s language.

Parents might also engage in conversations with their children that consider how their family values apply to social media. Every family is different — and what is permitted in one family might not be shared by another. “I always suggest picking five words: respect, kindness, integrity, honesty and empathy. These are some examples, which you then unpack as a family as to what they mean and why they are important,” says Diane. Establishing these values outside of social media specifically provides a great opportunity to reflect on the role of social media in your child’s life beyond whether or not their friends are using it.

Neringa Smith, Haileybury’s Director of Counselling Services, agrees — and reflects on how these conversations give parents and children a chance to reflect on what matters to you as a family beyond the digital domain.

“For instance, instead of social media, your family may value spending time together in person and having time to spend on their own interests; spending time playing sport; playing music; attending community, cultural or spiritual events together”

All of this helps to reposition social media in the mind of a young person as less of a social necessity, and more of an aspect of contemporary society that may or may not align with their family values. Above all else, it sends a clear message – that reducing time spent on social media opens young minds up to all kinds of other positive experiences, without the risk of cyberbullying.

When it is time to respond to or report behaviour

Haileybury is committed to creating a school environment where every student feels safe and supported to be their best and brightest self. We have zero tolerance for bullying in any form, with a range of protocols and policies in place to support students and parents if they are facing — or feel as though they could be facing — any form of bullying, either at school or online.

Knowing when to respond or report behaviour is vital, as it means your child can start getting the support they need to feel safe as soon as possible. An important first step is to help your child to recognise when bullying is happening or has happened, and even give them some initial strategies to try. “Often when a child or young person speaks up, they have tried some strategies themselves and want additional help from you,” Neringa says. “So, responding and talking through some strategies with your child can be a good next step. If the bullying behaviour continues, reporting the bullying is important so that your child is further supported. Report the bullying behaviour earlier rather than waiting for it to become worse.”

With student wellbeing forming a key foundation for the Haileybury school experience, you can always contact the school for extra guidance, information or support. Any shift in your child’s behaviour could be a sign that things are not going well for them at that moment, and addressing potential bullying behaviour could help them get back to their best self.

How to support your child in managing friendship challenges

Friendships challenges are a normal part of a child’s growth, but that does not make them any less difficult for a young person to deal with. It is important to acknowledge that challenges like these can make your child feel distressed. Being able to listen and provide support also gives you the opportunity to recognise whether these challenges are sporadic disagreements or conflicts, or a sign of ongoing bullying.

“If the behaviour is unkind, disrespectful, is ongoing and your child feels powerless, it is likely to be bullying,” says Neringa. “Ask your child about what has been happening, describe the behaviour, how it makes them feel, and if it appears to be bullying discuss it with someone at school for further support.”

Addressing behaviour if your child is responsible for bullying

Knowing when to recognise if their child is the one doing the bullying, rather than being bullied, is just as important for establishing a safe school community. While it might be difficult to acknowledge our children are potentially causing harm to others, it does provide an opportunity for growth and understanding.

Diane recommends taking a gentle, open approach in addressing this kind of behaviour.

“Talk it through with them. Take it slow, start with their side of the story and expand on that as much as you can to get the information from your child as to what led them to bully. Reassure your child that we all make mistakes, but we have to learn from them”

Addressing bullying behaviour also gives parents a chance to role model what a respectful relationship might look like. As Neringa notes, “It is important to focus on the negative behaviour and not the child themselves. Describe the behaviour, ask why they think it might not be appropriate and talk about how the other child may feel to encourage empathy.”

While stopping bullying entirely is always the main goal of these sorts of conversations, the chance to learn and grow — so that this sort of bullying does not happen again — is invaluable in making a lasting difference.

One Haileybury. Zero tolerance for bullying

Bullying has long been something young people have had to work through during their time at school — but that does not mean it has any place here at Haileybury. With a range of policies and protocols in place every day to support students, the wellbeing of the young people who make up the Haileybury school community always comes first. With that in mind, it is important for parents to be familiar with the sorts of bullying their children might face — or be responsible for — in today’s environment, to provide another avenue for support, for open conversation and for personal growth.

Together, we can shape a school community free from bullying. So that young people continue to feel safe and supported to be their best and brightest selves.