Is My Child Being Cyberbullied Or Is It Just Banter?

If you were to ask me what I consider to be the most attractive attribute in a person, it would be kindness but only closely followed by a sense of humour. There’s something about somebody who can tell a funny story that I just love. And humour can be a great bonding experience for us humans. Laughing over a funny video or sharing a hilarious story is pure friendship gold! But humour can often be murky territory online. 

Kids Love Humour 

One of my favourite things about being a mum of boys is the jokes. My boys can make me laugh till I cry. And the jokes and banter they share amongst themselves warms my heart. Sometimes it feels like slapstick comedy other times its brutal and direct and often a little cheeky. Over the years, ‘safe’ boundaries have been developed for their banter so that no-one gets hurt. But it hasn’t always been perfect. It takes a certain level of maturity and a healthy dose of empathy to know where to draw the line with your humour and, unfortunately, not everyone gets this right. 

When Is a Joke Just a Joke 

All friends will joke around with each other, and our tweens and teens are no exception. Whether it’s sharing comments on funny memes or TikTok’s or leaving witty comments on each other’s online posts, online banter can be quite the demonstration of friendship and connection.  

But sometimes it is hard to tell if someone is just having fun or trying to ridicule or make fun of another online. Without being able to see someone’s face and read their body language in person, the joker’s intention can often be ambiguous. It may be laughed off with a ‘just kidding’ or ‘relax, you’re too serious’. And so, here we are in the grey area. One of the most common questions I am asked by parents is how to differentiate between jokes and cyberbullying online. And my answer is simple. 

If you feel hurt by a joke or think others are laughing at you (instead of with you) then the joke has gone too far. Yes, we all have different levels of sensitivity but if you are offended then it’s time to take some action. Now, if it continues after asking for it to stop and you are still feeling upset then this is bullying.  

It really is simple – a joke is intended to be humorous without causing harm whereas bullying is intended to cause harm to others. And, of course jokes can sometimes go too far but in most cases an apology and an explanation can remedy any hurt.  

When To Take A Stand 

Navigating friendships when you’re in thick of being a teenager can be really tough for some kids particularly those who aren’t as mature or worldly as others. Kids who are a little younger or less experienced with life may feel that they are on the outskirts of their social group. And in my experience, this can be a tough place to be. Regardless of how many times we tell our kids that being popular or accepted doesn’t matter, when you’re 15 it really can. So, if your shy 15-year-old receives a joking message from a kid at school (who he’d like to be friends with) that upsets him, do you need to take action? Or will it jeopardise any chance your child might have to be friends with this child? 

I always like to give a person the benefit of the doubt. So, my advice here would be to continue to monitor the situation. If your child receives additional messages that upset him, then he needs to ask the ‘joker’ to stop. Some kids would be OK to manage this themselves while others might need some help. If they need help, I suggest contacting the school or sporting club that your kids have in common and asking them to intervene. Do not contact the child directly yourself. 

Teach Your Kids What To Do If They Are Cyberbullied 

One of the best things you can do for your kids is ensure they know what to do if they are on the receiving end of behaviour online that they find upsetting. Even if it doesn’t qualify as cyberbullying, having an action plan can empower them. Here’s what I suggest: 

  1. If appropriate, ask the bully or ‘joker’ to stop. If the behaviour continues, then proceed to next step. 
  2. Collect evidence – take screen shots of all communication. 
  3. Block the perpetrator – show your kids how to use these features. 
  4. Talk to a trusted adult – parent, teacher or family member. 
  5. Involve the school or sporting club, if appropriate. 
  6. If no luck with the school, report the incident to The Office of the eSafety Commissioner. They can work to have offensive material and cyberbullying situations addressed. 

It’s often hard to know when to get involved in your teens’ battles. At the end of the day, our job is to help our kids grow into independent adults. But when your gut tells you things are not right then it’s time to start investigating. Insomnia, anxiety, refusing to go to school and a change in the way they use their devices, are all signs they maybe on the receiving end of aggressive online behaviour. And remember, you know your kids better than anyone! 

Till Next Time 

Stay Safe Online 

Alex 🙂 

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