It’s a common worry for parents – is my child being bullied online? We speak to thousands of young people each week about the challenges of growing up online, and recently we’ve seen a rise in the number of students who are bullied by being ‘ranked’ or ‘rated’ using digital ‘stickers’.
Right now, Instagram is flooded with stickers, and not the kind that easily peel off – far from it. The stickers we’re talking about are graphics that can be added to Instagram Stories (posts that disappear after 24 hours) and can be animated and clickable. Stickers can be used in creative and positive ways, but they’re also being used to publicly shame and ridicule others, polling them on everything from their looks to popularity.
A 13-year-old girl opened up to us recently about her experience of this after receiving a WhatsApp message on her way to school from a friend saying she’d been voted “the ugliest girl in year 8” on Instagram. The voting was carried out by another girl at school who used a ‘polling sticker’ on her Instagram Story to persuade people to vote for the ugliest girl in the year group.
Someone then took a screenshot of the post and it was shared on multiple group chats. Her phone pinged throughout the day with messages from people she thought were her friends, but she later found out they had also voted for her themselves. She described the experience as humiliating, saying she didn’t think she’d ever move on from it.
So, what can parents do to support their children with online bullying?
We know that most teens share a tiny percentage of what they do, hear and see online with their parents. This is mainly due to a fear of having their tech or apps taken away, being judged or feeling embarrassed. Don’t wait for something to happen before you talk to your child about online challenges. Keep those all-important conversations about their digital lives going, but most importantly, reassure them that you are here to support them.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as bully-proofing your child, but you can help them to develop the skills needed to manage bullying. These could include helping them to identify their support network – the people in their life that they can go to in times of upset - or encouraging them to nurture a positive view and see these experiences as challenges to grow from.
Young people will often tell us that their parents “just don’t get it”. The more you can keep up to date with the latest trends and challenges, the better conversations you’ll be able to have. And remember, it may look different online, but bullying is bullying and very few of us have gone through life without experiencing it. So, if you’ve been bullied, consider opening up to your child about it and sharing anything you learnt, which you think might help them with their own experiences.
There have been some positive developments from Instagram who are working to reduce bullying on the platform It’s also possible to report any abuse to Instagram through its reporting features. Don’t hesitate to go to your child’s school and, with more serious cases, the police for support.
If you sense that your child isn’t opening up to you, encourage them to seek support from a trusted young people’s service, such as The Mix’s helpline and Childline
Digital Awareness UK is a leading digital wellbeing organisation working with schools and organisations in the UK and internationally.