Don’t be a bystander: Prevent online bullying for your child

Online bullying is a growing global concern. UNICEF wanted to better understand the experiences of children and young people online, so we asked more than 170,000 young people (between 13 and 24) in over 30 countries to speak up about their experiences.

One in three told us that they’ve been cyberbullied and 71 per cent told us that online bullying happens mostly through social networks. Indeed, one in five said they’ve missed school because of peer-to-peer violence online. Putting a stop to cyberbullying is a shared responsibility and everyone has a role to play, especially parents. How? By not being a bystander and getting involved in your child’s life.

A girl in an embrace with a lady who's hand covers the girl's face
© UN018651/ZehbrauskasDiana (name changed), 17, holds her mother’s hand as she embraces her in their home in El Salvador. After suffering online abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, Diana deleted her social media account and is now a strong advocate for online safety.

In 2018, a group of young people from around the world got together and wrote the #ENDviolence youth manifesto, committing to be kind, report violence, and take action to end violence together. But they also said that they can’t make these changes alone and demanded that parents, schools, and policymakers recognize their rights, take them seriously and take action to make sure they feel safe in school, online and in their communities.

A world free of violence must extend to the online world. Web safety can be particularly challenging for parents who see their children’s online safety as new and emerging territory, since these risks did not exist for many parents who were not taught how to handle them growing up. This new territory also comes with challenging trends. For example, almost one in two young people polled said they know of private online groups in their school community where children share information about other children so they can be bullied. Adults are not always aware of these dynamics that happen online.

A group of girls in school check their mobile phones
© UN014974/EstayStudents at St. Francis of Assisi School check their smart phones after classes in Cebu, Philippines. Social media can have a huge influence on children’s lives and constant connectedness also comes with many possible risks.

The big question for parents is what can they do?

First and foremost, parents should take part in their children’s online experience, both by familiarizing themselves with the platforms their children use and by helping them navigate the online world. Because children are often adept with technology, adults tend to assume they are inherently fluent online. Under the banner of “digital native,” young people are granted unfettered online access without being warned of the risks they might face or how to respond.

“Have you ever felt afraid of violence in or around your school?”, we asked young people. We received 1+ million responses from 160 countries, 69% said ‘yes’.

Internet usage enables children to achieve many of their rights – like access to information and freedom of expression – and, if guided correctly, it can be a game changer for helping children to fulfill their potential. But being fluent online doesn’t necessarily mean understanding the link between the online and offline worlds.

Parents and adults should be encouraged to talk openly with their children to help them navigate the online world and explain the reasons behind the risks. Some of these questions are a great way to start:

  • What kind of information should you share online?
  • How long does what you post online stay there?
  • How are the online and offline worlds different, and similar?
  • Who are you really connected to when you are online?
  • What do ‘terms and conditions’ actually mean? What does it mean to accept them before using an online service?
A graphic stating 'Violence has no place in schools'
© UNICEF#ENDviolence in schools

What else can parents do? A few recommendations:

  • Empower children with information about unique online dynamics: issues of anonymity, speed and the wide reach of online interactions, as well as the perpetuity of information online.
  • Talk to children about how the offline and online world inherently connect, and how online activity can have offline effect.
  • Encourage positive behaviour and kindness, both online and offline.
  • Act as digital mentors. Children are more likely to turn to their parents for support about an unwanted situation online if parents teach them about technology.
  • Respect the minimum age requested for setting up accounts in social networks and make sure that children understand the rationale for the age limits.
  • Be a role model. Behave as they want their children to behave online — including being kind, not over-sharing, and not liking negative comments.

The first step is to decide not to be a bystander in your child’s life. Get actively involved to help stop violence online.

Visit our Take action page for more information on how to address both in-person and online bullying.

Read about our poll results on online violence.


Maria Luisa Sotomayor is an Advocacy and Communications specialist on digital safety and child online protection for #ENDviolence, UNICEF.

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