Raising the Bar: Suffolk County Council offers advice on how to support your child through bullying and friendship issues

Empowering Parents December

Empowering Parents December - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Welcome to the December edition of Empowering Parents which focusses on bullying and what you can do to support your child.

Empowering Parents December

Empowering Parents December - Credit: Archant

Bullying can happen both in person and online. In whichever form the impact on a child can be significant and we must all do as much as we can to support those affected, with the ultimate aim of stamping it out altogether.

We have provided advice on introducing your child to technology and the importance of e-safety, what to do if your child is being bullied and guidance on your child’s friendships – when you should help and when it might be better to take a step back.

Friendships – when to help, and when to take a step back

When it comes to your child’s friendships, it can sometimes be difficult to determine when your child needs support and when they can work it out for themselves. Here are a few useful tips to help you support them in building the skills they need to communicate and what you can do to ensure that your child is happy within those friendships.

Young children don’t always share and take turns naturally. Parents and siblings can help them by teaching them the skills to get on with others effectively. For example, how to play a game, coping with not always getting their own way, listening to others and being confident about having their say.

• Take an interest in your children’s friends and get to know their parents too. This means you can be more confident about where they are and it helps you discuss with your child about why there might be different rules in different houses, and why you set the ones you do.

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• When children fall out with their friends, it can be upsetting for parents too. Often you just need to be a sympathetic ear while they sort it out, but if you see that your child remains unhappy or is being bullied, try to find out more and if necessary follow it up with school.

• Understand that friends will play an increasing part in your child’s life. This can be challenging for parents, but the way you manage it can have a major effect on family life.

• Some peer relationships can lead to problems, for example getting into trouble with friends when there isn’t clear guidance from parents about what they are allowed to do. Get to know your teenager’s friends and look for ways to meet other parents.

• Parents can still take an interest in who their child’s friends are and what they are doing. Take an interest in their life and make it an everyday topic of conversation, so that it doesn’t feel like a cross-examination.

• Young people can lack confidence in social activities, so be prepared to help them get there and agree rules that are fair, but recognise they are becoming more independent – e.g. what’s allowed on school nights and at weekends.

• Young people need to feel that they can talk to you when situations with friends are difficult, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. They don’t necessarily want you to sort everything out for them, but it’s best to listen.

• If they want you to, you can help them to develop problem-solving skills – seeing what the issues are, coming up with possible solutions, choosing one, trying it out and reviewing how it worked.

Christmas time and gadgets – how you can make technology safe for your child

If you’re thinking about buying a tablet or smartphone for your child this Christmas, there are a lot of factors to take into consideration. Cost, durability, access and apps are all things that will influence your decision – but what about e-safety?

Why does e-safety matter?

E-safety stands for ‘electronic safety’. It’s about ensuring your child understands how to be safe when they are online and what to do if something upsets them.

What issues do I need to be aware of?

The media has reported on a number of issues nationally, including sexting.

Sexting takes place when sexually explicit photographs are distributed to others, mainly by mobile phones. There is also the risk of online grooming. Online grooming is when people, usually adults, form relationships with children by pretending to be their friend.

In the 2013 e-Safer Suffolk cybersurvey (completed by 1,685 children and young people), the biggest issue reported was cyberbullying. Cyberbullying occurs when mobiles or the internet are used as tools to bully others.

• 20% of respondents said that they had been cyberbullied (this is in line with results using the same survey in other local authority areas).

• The situation that they rated the most distressing was receiving ‘humiliating photos’ which had been deliberately sent round to upset or embarrass the young person. 26% of those who received them said it made them feel ‘really awful’.

• Messages sent behind someone’s back online or using a mobile and people spreading rumours was also very common. 74% of the children and young people who responded said that they knew someone this had happened to.

What can I do as a parent?

You don’t have to understand technology to help your child to be aware of the risks they may come across when using the internet.

• Raise awareness of e-safety with your child early, unfortunately cyberbullying can start in primary schools.

• Reassure your child. Encourage them to talk to you if they feel uncomfortable by something they’ve seen or by someone who has contacted them online.

• Report it! Use the report abuse buttons on social networks to report cyberbullying, and help your child understand that they can use the report abuse buttons too.

• Ask your child’s school if they hold any internet-safety sessions for parents.

• Make use of the parental controls that you can set up on your child’s device. Look for gadgets with child-friendly software or ‘kids-mode’ apps.

• Don’t forget about protecting your home broadband through your internet service provider (ISP).

For more information, visit www.esafersuffolk.org – a website for advice and information for professionals, parents and carers.For tips and advice on children’s internet safety, go to www.internetmatters.org (supported by the four major internet service providers in the UK; BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media). To read the 2013 e-Safer Suffolk cybersurvey mentioned in this piece, visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-community/e-safer-suffolk/e-safer-suffolk-cybersurvey/

What defines bullying?

The Suffolk Children’s Trust defines bullying as: “A deliberately hurtful act by an individual or group, usually repeated over a period of time. It often involves an abuse of power or use of intimidation and can affect an individual or a group.”

There are many different types of bullying including:

• Emotional (e.g. ignoring, tormenting and being cut out of social groups).

• Physical (e.g. pushing, kicking and threats).

• Racist (e.g. name calling and discrimination).

• Sexual (e.g. unwanted physical contact and abusive comments).

• Verbal (e.g. name calling, persistent teasing, sarcasm and threats).

• Homophobic bullying (e.g. inappropriate comments about someone’s sexuality).

• Cyber (e.g. abusive texts, emails or hurtful comments or posts on websites, especially social media such as Facebook).

What should parents look out for?

If you think your child may be being bullied, look out for the following signs:

• Bruises

• Broken or missing possessions

• Becoming withdrawn – not talking, or spending more time alone

• Changes in eating habits

• Changes in behaviour – becoming aggressive at home

• Sleeping badly

• Complaining of headaches or stomach aches

• Wetting the bed

• Worrying about going to school

• Suddenly doing less well at school

How you can help your child

• Talk to your child. If you’re worried your child is being bullied, ask them about it directly. Children who are being bullied may be frightened to admit anything is wrong so be prepared for this. But reassure them that they can talk to you about any problems they have.

• Talk to your child’s school. If you’re concerned that your child is being bullied, talk to an appropriate person in your child’s school, like their teacher or head of year.

n Schools and settings are keen to address bullying matters swiftly and take steps, with you, to sort it out. All schools must have an anti-bullying policy which they share with parents and carers. Many schools have peer mentoring or buddying schemes to help pupils will all kinds of problems.

• Ask the school what learning takes place to enable pupils (of all ages) to understand what makes a good relationship/friendship, as well as provide them with the knowledge, skills and understanding to prevent bullying. In essence, bullying is likely to happen when relationships have broken down.

Bullying UK has a dedicated parents section with lots of helpful information www.bullying.co.uk/advice-for-parents/ Childline also has lots of useful support for children and young people – www.childline.org.uk If you think the bullying is related to any special education needs or disabilities, SENDIASS (Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Information, Advice and Support Service) has a helpline which offers local support; 01473 265210 (office hours only). You can also visit the website at www.suffolk.gov.uk/sendiass If you would like to read the Suffolk Children’s Trust Anti-Bullying Strategy ‘Stand Out Against Bullying’ visit www.suffolk.gov.uk/bullying/I hope that you will find this useful. If you have any feedback about this instalment or any past editions of Empowering Parents, please get in touch by emailing raisingthebar@suffolk.gov.uk