How to approach the issue of (cyber) bullying

Bullying is an age-old problem. I remember all to well my first experience being bullied at primary school. Every morning, without fail I had to walk past Tom who happened to also live up the road from me. For some reason Tom took a liking to picking on me. Perhaps it was because I was younger than him, perhaps his friends found it hilarious and he took some affirmation out of that but whatever the reason, I became paralyzed with fear everyday because I knew the inevitable would happen. Tom would push me against the wall and scare the daylights out of me. My heart would race as I tried to sneak past unnoticed. Sometimes I was successful, other days not so much.

My story is one that many children can relate to. Thankfully I had a caring parent who showed patience with me even though she could see something wasn’t right. What bullies do so well is make you believe that saying anything will make matters far worse. So you don’t. Eventually I mustered up the courage to talk with my mother and the matter was resolved swiftly. I could breathe again.

Little research is available on the prevalence of bullying in South Africa. It is likely that, to some degree, physical bullying is on the decrease while online forms of bullying have skyrocketed. The emotional and social damage that this latter form of bullying can inflict on our vulnerable kids is immense. I must admit there is a part of me that feels a great sense of relief that the online world was in its infancy during my own childhood and adolescence.

According to stopbullying.gov, a US based organization which outlines the concerns related to all forms of bullying, cyber bullying has unique characteristics that make it more challenging to stamp out.

The governmental organization describes persistency as the first point in that our phones are connected to us 24 hours a day so finding relief from the immediate and continuous bullying can be hard to attain.

Secondly cyber bullying can be permanent in that our online presence and communication is often public and permanent unless removed. One needs to look no further than the recent suspension of English cricketer Ollie Robinson over racially charged tweets dating back to 2012 when he was a teenager. Our online footprint stays with us and anyone wanting to find an old hurtful post can so with relative ease.

The third characteristic of cyber bullying is that it is hard to notice because it occurs online and often in groups that educators and parents aren’t privy to.

So naturally the question becomes how can parents assist their children when there is a suspicion that bullying is at play? The following points offer some food for thought for parents struggling to find guidance on how best to handle this situation. There is no one size fits all approach so take what works and

  1. Take the time to just listen. As parents we often want to fix things immediately but empathizing and listening attentively is a big first step.

  2. This is an issue that needs to be handled delicately but if the school and educators are unaware then they can’t do anything. It may be a safer strategy to have a meeting with both your child’s teacher and the principal where you discuss the concerns and the importance of a delicate approach. The last thing you want is the teacher giving a lecture off the cuff to the class about bullying which throws fuel on the fire.

  3. Show your child that you care and are there to support them. Unconditionally.

  4. Be patient and stay calm. Its understandably to get angry when you feel your child is being bullied but you need a clear hear to deal with this.

  5. Include your child in the problem-solving conversations. This empowers them.

  6. Do not ignore or dismiss their concerns even if from your adult perspective you feel it will ‘blow over’.

  7. Acknowledge the courage it takes to open up to you about this.

  8. Help them understand the bullying is not their fault. Children have a tendency to internalize negative events and look for reasons to blame themselves. Here they need a mature perspective to guide them.

  9. Help your child to be assertive. This doesn’t mean punching back but It does mean showing confidence.

  10. Assertiveness requires practice. Try teaching this through roleplay at home until your child feels confident.


Bullying is unlikely to ever be eradicated so as parents it is our responsibility to assist and support wherever possible.



Dayne Williams in an Educational Psychologist practicing in Cape Town. He works with patients adolescents and young adults presenting with a wide range of learning and emotional barriers. For more information visit www.edugrow.co.za


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