It used to be that when a child came through their front door, they were safe. But with cyberbullying, that is no longer the case. Indeed, cyberbullying cases rose by 28% during lockdown and as our children spend longer online at an earlier age, that prevalence shows little sign of abating.

“Coming out of the pandemic, schools were facing this massive increase in ‘meanness’, a lot of exclusions from WhatsApp groups and it was really impacting on their ability to learn the next day,” says Cliodhna Purdue, Training Executive of the Online Safety Programme for Barnardos.

Hopefully it will never happen to your child. Frighteningly, however, for parents, 60% of those children surveyed by Barnardos in 2022 said they would not tell their parents if they were being cyberbullied. Why is this?

“Number one, they were afraid their phone would be taken off them,” responds Cliodhna.

“Maybe they don’t feel 100% innocent as well,” she adds.

Your child might have stood up for themselves and responded to a bully by writing a sharp message back, with it escalating from there. Or your child may have been bullied on a game they shouldn’t have been playing.

Signs to watch out for

This makes it especially important to be aware of indicators. Anxiety, distress, not wanting to go to school and not telling parents what is potentially wrong are all signs to look out for, according to Dr Liam Challenor, Chartered Psychologist with the Psychological Society of Ireland, whose focus area is cyberpsychology.

Your child’s school performance may go down. Or they may have changes of mood or behaviour, difficulty sleeping, or changes in eating patterns.

If you notice a change in your child, make sure to have a chat.

“They should know, no matter what the circumstances are or the repercussions might be, that they can still come and have a conversation and Mum or Dad is going to help them,” Liam says.

Talking to your child side by side in a car is a great idea to reduce some of the pressure of that conversation, Liam suggests.

How to support your child

If you establish that your child is being bullied online, focus on an action plan. As counterintuitive as it might seem, it’s not recommended that you take your child’s phone away from them, as it will feel like a double punishment.

Liam recommends ensuring that your child’s internet use is in a more monitored space and that you have conversations like, “Who are you chatting to at the moment?” You can make technological interventions such as disabling some features on online games or blocking and reporting.

According to research, two thirds of cases tend to overlap between a face-to-face setting and an online setting. Liam recommends contacting your child’s school if both pupils attend the same school. “Schools have a duty of care to act for both face-to-face cases and cyberbullying ones,” he says.

“Schools and parents can work together to resolve a lot of these issues and cooperate. They don’t have to deal with them in isolation,” he adds.

Take screenshots on apps where the perpetrator won’t be notified, or take a photo of the conversation with your own phone. These screenshots can be shared with the school confidentially.

“I would try and use the school as a mediator between both sets of parents and support both sets of kids,” recommends Liam. Schools can play an important part in helping the perpetrator to understand the reasons and rationale for them engaging in bullying behaviour.

Liam would also recommend you speak to a counsellor. You can find one through the Psychological Society of Ireland website ( ‘Find a Psychologist’ section.

“There should be no fear to seek support,” says Liam. Your child may need help in rebuilding resilience and self-esteem.

Start the conversation

With a wealth of information online (see panel), Webwise ( is the place to start. Their Youth Advisory Panel and ambassadors have created “Online Talking Points for Parents”, a downloadable guide for parents to encourage their child to open up about their life online.

“Show that you value their interests and understand their world,” says Jane McGarrigle, Project Officer from Webwise.

“This will help them feel more comfortable to share their thoughts with you in the future and if something does go wrong online, they’ll feel comfortable coming to you then.”

A brilliant slogan used by Webwise is “Don’t put anything up on the internet you wouldn’t want your Nana to see”. It’s a message worth drumming home at home. Words do hurt and we can all do better in our interactions when we remember that.

“It’s really important that we teach children to be kind to each other and understanding that if it’s on the internet you can’t take it back,” concludes Cliodhna Purdue.