Preventing Online Bullying

A report into bullying by NCH in 2002 recorded that one in four British children said they had been bullied via the internet or their mobile phones. The web gives bullies anonymity and children are at risk from receiving threatening or upsetting emails, or being the subject of cruel online pranks. As a teacher, it’s important that you understand online bullying and know what you can do to prevent it. 

Bullying by email

  • Establish a reporting procedure so that bullied children know who they can turn to if they are affected.
  • Children should not respond to bullies’ messages and seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Tell them not to delete the message as it is evidence of bullying.
  • If the email is being sent from a personal email account, abuse should be reported to the sender’s email service provider. Many email programs also provide facilities to block email from certain senders.
  • If the bullying emails continue, and the email address of the sender is not obvious, then it may be possible to track the address using special software. Your email service provider should be able to offer assistance in doing this.
  • In certain cases, it may be easier for the child to change their email address, and then exercise caution over who this new address is given to.

 Bullying within chat rooms or by instant messaging

  • Chatrooms have an element of anonymity so children may often have the confidence to say things online which they would not say face to face. Whilst this can be a positive thing for some children, it can also lead to bullying. Groups are often formed in chatrooms just as they would be in school, and can be used as a way of excluding or harassing others.
  • Encourage children to always use moderated chatrooms, and to never give out personal information while chatting. If bullying does occur, they should not respond to messages, but should leave the chat room, and seek advice from a teacher, parent or carer. If using a moderated chat room, the system moderators should also be informed, giving as much detail as possible, so that they can take appropriate action.
  • IM is a form of online chat but is private between two, or more, people. The system works on the basis of ‘buddy lists’, where chat can only take place with those on your list. Children should only add people to their buddy list that they know, and reject requests from others to join their list.
  • If a child is bullied or harassed by IM, the service provider should be informed giving the nickname or ID, date, time and details of the problem. The service provider will then take appropriate action which could involve a warning or disconnection from the IM service. If a child has experienced bullying in this way, it might also be worth re-registering for instant messaging with a new user ID.

 Bullying by websites

  • Although less common, bullying via websites is still a problem for some children. Such bullying generally takes the form of websites that mock, torment, harass or are otherwise offensive, often aimed at an individual or group of people.
  • If a child discovers a bullying website referring to them, they should seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Pages should be copied and printed, and the ISP that hosts the site should be contacted immediately. The ISP can take steps to find out who posted the site, and request that it is removed.
  • Additionally, many websites and forum services now provide facilities for visitors to create online votes and polls, which have been used by bullies to humiliate and embarrass their fellow pupils. Again, any misuse of such services should be reported to a teacher, parent or carer who should then take steps to contact the host to request the removal of the poll.

 Strategies for preventing online bullying

  • Awareness of general internet safety practices can help to reduce the risk of online bullying, and generally ensure that children remain safe when online or using any technology. The following hints and tips are adapted from those provided by, and could be used as a basis for class discussion by teachers.

 Keep personal information private

  • Personal information should be kept private at all times. This includes details such as name, address, email address, home and mobile phone numbers, school name, membership of clubs, or information on family and friends. If bullies don’t have access to this information, the less likely they are to be able to abuse it.
  • Don’t believe everything you read. Just because someone online tells you that they are 15 doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Even adults can’t tell when a male pretends to be a female or a 50 year old pretends to be a 15 year old.
  • Use netiquette. Be polite to others online as you would offline. If someone treats you rudely, or is mean, you should not respond. Chances are that the bully will see that they are having no effect, and stop the abusive messages. If not, and the abusive messages continue, seek help from a teacher, parent or carer.
  • Never send messages when angry. Wait until you have calmed down and had time to think. Do your best to make sure that your messages are calmly and factually written. You will usually regret sending an angry message, otherwise known as a flame, to someone later on. Once you’ve sent a message, it’s extremely difficult to undo the damage that such flames can do.
  • Never open a message from someone you don’t know. Delete strange emails from people you don’t know. If in doubt, seek advice from a teacher, parent or carer. If it doesn’t look or feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts.
  • If you ever see anything on the internet, or receive an email or text message that makes you feel uncomfortable, switch off the computer and seek advice from an adult.
  • Don’t reply to messages from cyberbullies. Even though you may really want to, this is exactly what cyberbullies want. They want to know that they’ve got you worried and upset. Don’t give them that pleasure.
  • Protect yourself. Never arrange to meet someone you have met online.

Don’t keep bullying to yourself

Make sure kids know they are not alone and that they know the school will take bullying seriously. Establish a reporting procedure that every child knows about.

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