Everything you need to know about cyberbullying as child psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos answers the key questions

The Sunday Mirror has teamed up with not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters, which helps keep kids safe online, to give parents expert advice on how to start a conversation with their children on the issue of cyberbullying.

Keen to start a conversation on one of the most important issues facing parents today, we asked you to send us your questions on all aspects of cyberbullying.

You got in touch, asking about all aspects of cyberbullying, from how it starts, to how to act if you suspect your child is involved.

Child psychologist and Internet Matters ambassador Dr Linda Papadopoulos has done her best to provide answers to all of those and more.

Here is her Q&A:

Is the impact of cyberbullying as damaging as face-to-face bullying?

While the emotional aspects of bullying continue to be devastating, the internet and social media have changed the way children experience bullying.

They are both potentially very damaging but the added element of cyberbullying means you cannot escape.

Even in your bedroom – which used to be a safe place for children – the bully can now enter and that’s the worry.

What are the psychological effects of online bullying?

As well as the effects of bullying in general, which include a sense of anxiety, social unease, low mood, fear, a sense of apprehension about entering school, school phobias, you have the added element of feeling trapped, you can’t get away from it.

The online element makes you feel like it’s something you can’t escape, we have no respite from cyberbullying and all of those things become compounded.

Will it cause long-term damage to their self-esteem?

There are studies to suggest that bullying can potentially be something that is so traumatic it affects kids later on.

However if you are able to deal with it early on, kids can come out of it feeling much more resilient.

Like any psycho-social problem that we deal with, time is of the essence. It’s important to address it as early as possible.

What should I do as soon as I find out my child is affected?

It’s important to speak to them right away and in the same way that you’d talk to your child about any form of bullying – aim to resolve things together.

If things escalate speak to the school and, if appropriate, the other child’s parents. Do the same thing with cyberbullying as you would do with face-to-face bullying.

It may feel like it’s the right thing to do to take away their phone but often this isn’t the best course of action.

We know that one of the reasons children don’t open up is that they think: “Oh I’m afraid if I tell you I’m being bullied, you will take this away.”

Kids worry about opening up, they’re afraid of what you will do – so ensure you’re going to work with them, give them support around how much they engage with social media, monitor it and discuss it.

It’s also important to look at their privacy settings, what access others have and what they’re saying online and if it does escalate, it is important to bring educators and parents of the other child into it.

When shall I approach the bullies parents?

In the first instance try and resolve it with the child and then if it continues then it is certainly important to get the other parents involved.

Because of the advancements in technology, I don’t think a lot of parents understand really how this type of bullying works – it can be covert rather than overt.

Your child may be very hurt because they’ve had a hashtag named about them or someone’s sending pictures where they’ve been made to look funny or that they’ve been cropped out of them.

They could be being bullied by exclusion as someone says: “Oh we’re all going here and you’re not.”

There are a lot of nuanced ways and being able to understand how it’s affecting your child and relay that to another parent and in turn their child is very important.

Who should I speak to?

There are different levels of support that you can get. In the first instance, speak to your child, make sure they know you’re there for them.

Then take a look at their privacy settings and the next level is try and speak to the other child’s parents and try and make them aware and also the school.

Parents also should look at internetmatters.org which can help advise parents and that advice is key as don’t forget this technology is new to all of us.

Facebook is a teenager, Snapchat is only a six-year-old child so as parents, we are all kind of playing catch-up. Ask for advice.

Should I take away their devices if they are a target?

Rather than taking them away – say to them, “let’s look at it together”, or “let me help you deal with it” and teach them how to block bullies as it may not have been something they’re familiar with.

Make it so that their device becomes a safer place to be on. That’s important for you and for your child.

Should I attempt to speak to the bullies?

Parents speaking to other people’s kids isn’t the best way to go.

Speak to the parents of that child or get a teacher involved as it might be the bully did not realise the impact of their actions.

With cyberbullying, they may use a hashtag they thought was funny but didn’t realise it was hurtful or made another child feel left out.

You need to ensure that you gave the other child a chance to understand their actions.

What shall I do if I find out my child has sent cruel comments?

Talk about how it feels to read cruel comments and get them to empathise and understand what it feels like.

It’s better to be proactive rather than reactive to these things, once your child starts on social media, talk about what could go wrong.

I always say to my daughter: “If you’re not comfortable wearing it on a T-shirt don’t write it anywhere – not an email, a text, it will get everywhere.”

Think about the fact that other people are looking at it, if you’re about to write: “I had a great time at Katie’s party” well think about who wasn’t invited to Katie’s party.

Really have those conversations with your child and if they are caught bullying, it’s really important that you explain to them why this behaviour is seen as bullying.

Understand how they see it, was their intention to hurt? If so, why? What’s going on with their own self-esteem? If it wasn’t their intention, what are they misunderstanding?

How can you help them with the conceptualisation of their behaviour and help them behave appropriately.

Should I ban devices if they have been sending abuse?

You should educate them on how to use them better, aim to oversee their device usage and limit it rather than ban their device. How malicious has it been?

The most important thing you can do is make sure they empathise what has happened and apologise to the other child.

Taking away tech as a means of punishment is fine in the short term but it’s more important to get them to understand how to use it appropriately.

What age should I talk to my child about bullying?

Immediately. As soon as you’re even contemplating getting them a phone.

Talk to them in the way you would talk about bullying and feeling safe, help them understand what social media is.

For a lot of kids, that tends to be the end of primary school, the beginning of secondary school.