Most social media and gaming sites let you block or report someone for bullying you. However, many teens don’t use these options, or don’t trust them.
To block, or not to block?
Blocking is one of the most common tactics teens use when they are bullied online. Teens are much more likely to block someone for cyber bullying them than to tell a teacher, for example.
However, the majority of cyber bullied teens still don’t block the people responsible, or don’t find blocking helpful. And it’s even less common for teens to report bullying to the website where it happened.
Some teens don’t block or report because they’ve found another solution. However, there are others who still need help but don’t trust that blocking or reporting will do any good.
What’s wrong with blocking and reporting?
Teens often worry about how people might react. For example:
- ‘What if I block or report someone, and they react by becoming more aggressive?’
- ‘What if the person I’ve blocked keeps trashing me in front of other people instead?’
- ‘If I report someone, will people think I’m “dobbing”?’
- ‘I’ve reported bullying to a website before, and they didn’t help me.’
Teens who are ‘vulnerable’ due to disability, illness or trauma are also less likely to use blocking or reporting successfully. Many of them have missed out on education about cyber safety, or do not have trusting relationships with tech-savvy adults.
So, what can parents do?
1. Understand the tech
Start with Australia’s eSafety Guide, which explains the most popular social media and gaming sites, including how to report inappropriate messaging, control who sees your information, and stop someone contacting you.
2. Talk with your teens
Most young Australians who take formal action against cyber bullying – such as reporting it to the website – have also confided in someone they trust, like a parent or friend. By talking with teens about what’s happening online, we can help them build confidence to make a report if they wish to.
Ask your teens what they know about blocking and reporting, and get them to show you how these functions work. If they don’t know, find out together.
Talk through some practical scenarios, such as:
- “What would you do if you didn’t want to read someone’s mean comments?”
- “What would you do if you’d blocked someone and they contacted you another way?”
- “Do your friends ever block or report people? Why / why not?”
- “What would you do if someone blocked you?”
There are no perfect solutions, but parents can support teens to think about what actions they could take and the possible outcomes.
3. Explore other tactics
Many social media platforms offer ways to reduce contact with someone without blocking them. For example, Instagram introduced their ‘Restrict’ function because teens wanted a less confrontational way to avoid people. Sites may allow you to:
- Reduce the posts you see by a particular person
- Limit that person’s access to your posts
- Hide that person’s messages
- Filter out comments with negative keywords.
Talk to your teens about whether they would ‘restrict’, ‘remove’, ‘ignore’, ‘mute’, or ‘take a break’ from someone. Have they ever done this? What happened next?
4. Contact the eSafety Commissioner
Children under 18 or their parents/carers can contact the eSafety Commissioner to get serious cyber bullying material removed. They will typically:
- Get back to you within 48 hours
- Expect you to report the bullying to the website where it happened first
- Ask for evidence – eg. screenshots, files
- Accept reports even if the people bullying you are unknown or overseas
After assessing a complaint, the eSafety Commissioner can request that the site remove the bullying content within 48 hours.
5. Encourage resilience
Teens who’ve been cyber bullied are more likely to take positive action, such as reporting to the website, if they have high resilience. Resilience refers to a person’s ability to cope with adversity and ‘bounce back’.
We can support teens by:
- Teaching them problem-solving skills and encouraging them to make decisions.
- Making sure they have responsible people they can ask for help – such as relatives, neighbours, mentors and teachers – and that they know how to ask.
- Encouraging them to discover their strengths, build skills, meet challenges and make a difference – for example via sports teams, volunteering, Scouts, martial arts, or cultural and scientific spaces. (See Cyberbullying Research Centre.)
- Exploring things like mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy.
- Supporting them to make good friends and connect with community.