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How to protect yourself and your child against cyber bullying

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Cyber bullying is a serious issue that affects children and young people in particular, but adults can also be bullied online. Read on to find out how you can protect yourself and your children against bullying on the internet.

Sharing embarrassing pictures in a chat, filming playground fights or posting insulting comments on social media: what often starts as gentle teasing can end up having severe consequences for victims of bullying, and the bullies themselves can even face a criminal conviction. Vigilance and common sense when using the internet can reduce the risk of cyber bullying attacks for both you and your children.

What is cyber bullying?

We use this term when a person is subjected to protracted and deliberate insults, humiliation or harassment via one or more digital platforms.

The internet increasingly allows people to remain anonymous, which is making cyber bullying a growing problem – especially for children and young people. Whether it's spreading rumors, setting up insulting fake profiles, harassing people with text messages or sharing embarrassing or even explicit pictures, cyber bullying is a very serious problem in all its forms and can have severe consequences.

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What types of cyber bullying are there?

As well as becoming increasingly commonplace, cyber bullying is also taking more and more different forms. Here are some examples: 

  • Public insults: These can be spread in comments on social networks, via messaging services like WhatsApp or even through phone calls in which the caller's number is hidden. 
  • Threats and blackmail: These also tend to happen on the most popular platforms. Examples include threatening someone with violence or emotionally blackmailing them with embarrassing and/or explicit photos and videos. 
  • Anonymous contact: In this form of cyber bullying, perpetrators often use a fake profile, frequently to persuade children and young people to agree to meet in person. 
  • Spreading rumors: Various channels can be used to share false information about someone publicly. 
  • Sharing photos or videos: Sometimes, sharing embarrassing and/or explicit photos or violent videos sets off a chain reaction, so more and more people end up seeing them. 
  • Exclusion: Cyber bullying victims can be systematically excluded from certain groups or games. 
  • Identity theft: A victim's personal details are stolen and misused, for example to make online purchases. Fake profiles might also be created in the victim's name.

What are the causes of cyber bullying?

There are many reasons behind cyber bullying, including jealousy, xenophobia, and racism. Boredom, a lack of empathy, and an inability to process negative emotions can also be contributing factors. 

Many bullies don't realize the impact their actions have, so they can quickly turn into repeat offenders. Children and young people in particular often see bullying as a joke and fail to understand that it can have severe consequences for victims.

What effects can cyber bullying have?

The effects of cyber bullying can be severe and can have a lasting impact on victims' lives – especially those of children, young people or anyone who is psychologically vulnerable. It isn't always easy to get content removed from the internet, and offending material can sometimes linger for years. This puts huge pressure on victims and can lead to psychological and physical effects like the following:

  • Feelings of shame, helplessness or loneliness 
  • Loss of self-confidence, self-worth, and self-respect 
  • Sleep disorders and nightmares 
  • Anxiety and depression 
  • Social exclusion and isolation 
  • Self-harm 
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies 
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If you fall victim to cyber bullying, you should try remain calm (as hard as that can be) and not react emotionally. Follow these steps: 

  1. Don't play into the bullies' hands: Don't respond to their comments or posts. That will just give them a reason to attack you again. 
  2. Collect evidence: Make a record of the offending content (chats, messages, pictures or videos) by taking a screenshot. It's important to capture the entire screen so the time and place the content was posted is visible. 
  3. Block the bully or bullies: Block any bullies and report them to the platform in question so as to avoid any further posts. 
  4. Delete content: If you can, try to delete the offending content. 
  5. Talk to the bully or bullies: If you know the person or people responsible, and if the bullying doesn't represent a serious threat, try to talk to them about it and ask them to remove all offending content right away. 
  6. Press charges: If there is a serious threat, or if the person responsible refuses to back down, report them to the police and press charges. 
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How can I protect myself and my child against cyber bullying?

Bullying feeds off everyone remaining silent – perpetrators, victims, and those around them. Only by breaking this silence can we make the internet a safer place. Protect your own privacy and be careful with your data online. Be aware that you can make yourself vulnerable by sharing information about yourself or pictures of yourself on social media. Protect your child by teaching them this. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Teach media skills: Talk to your child about the dangers of the internet and explain what cyber bullying means. Stress how important it is to be careful when using computers and mobile devices.
  • Build trust: Create an atmosphere in which your child can confide in you. That way, they won't be afraid to come to you if they're being bullied online.
  • Keep an eye on internet use: Make it clear what your child is allowed to do on the internet and what they aren't, and check once in a while to make sure they're following the rules. Define clear time windows when they're allowed to go online.

What can I do if my child is being bullied online?

As soon as you find out that your child is the victim of cyber bullying, you should take the matter seriously. Offer support and create an environment of trust where they can talk openly about their experiences. It's especially important not to accuse your child of anything and to explain that they aren't to blame.

Next, collect as much evidence as you can by taking screenshots and report all profiles that are taking part in the bullying.

If the bullies go to school with your child, you should inform all teachers and other people in authority straight away. Bullying among students often happens offline as well as online. The bullies' parents should also be informed about their children's behavior. They might well have no idea what's going on.

If the situation escalates and you don't know what to do for the best, you can call the youth charity Pro Juventute's (in German) advice line for parents in total confidence at any time of day or night. This will help in finding a solution.

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How do I tell if my child is being bullied on the internet?

It can be hard to tell when a child or young person is the victim of cyber bullying. It's common for them to keep it to themselves, even though they need help. This makes it important to spot the warning signs, which can include the following: 

  • Your child seems withdrawn and distant.
  • They complain regularly about physical problems like headaches or stomach aches.
  • They aren't sleeping as well as usual.
  • Your child's friends don't get in touch any more.

Any unusual behavior that persists for a long time should make you suspicious. Talk openly with your child and make it clear that they can confide in you whenever they need to and will always get the help they need and deserve.

Is cyber bullying a criminal offense?

There's no special law against cyberbullying in Switzerland, but there are ways in which victims can call their tormentors to account. Depending on the nature and severity of the bullying, a conventional offense may have been committed that can be prosecuted accordingly. Insult, defamation, and threatening behavior – all classic features of cyber bullying – are defined as offenses by the Swiss Criminal Code and can be punished by fines of up to 180 daily penalty units.

If, for example, a bully hacks an account and uses it without the owner's consent, this qualifies as unauthorized access to a data processing system, which can in fact attract a prison sentence of up to five years.

Even in the absence of a special clause on cyber bullying, victims have plenty of scope to invoke the law in their own defense. The most important thing to remember in this respect is that you need to collect enough compelling evidence.

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