Self Esteem & Cyber-Bullying - How Can We Explain Them To Young Children

Louise O’Hagan, Education Officer at CyberSafeIreland shares some helpful advice about cyber-bullying.


The internet and self-esteem have become inextricably ‘connected’. Ahem, excuse the pun. Individuals ‘live their best life’ online. This firstly gives off a sense of high levels of self-esteem from the people posting, and may negatively impact the self-esteem of others who are not ‘living their best lives’. Self-esteem can be described as how much we like and value ourselves, rate ourselves. Often this is done by comparing ourselves to others, especially at a young age. There are offline and online factors that exist and can drive higher or lower levels of self-esteem, and these differ in everyone. Some may find being good at sport impacts their level of self-esteem and others may want to be the most popular in the class. As parents we must respect what is important to our own kids and what they value. 

So what contributes to how kids value, like and rate themselves?

Offline Factors 

During our younger years we want to be like everyone else and ‘fit in’, follow the latest fashion trends, be on the top sports team or be in with the cool gang in the classroom or on our estate. This is important when we are young: it is part of growing up and can not always be fast-forwarded.  As we get older we form our own personalities and style and become more unique, often losing the need to fit in as much as we did when we are younger. This fitting in and being cool contributes to our self-esteem.

During our younger years we want to be like everyone else and ‘fit in’

This has changed with the introduction of the internet and added an additional layer to the development of self-esteem in children. Kids now want to be cool online, to play the latest games that their peer groups are playing, download the hippest social media apps and take part in online challenges and trends.

We as adults know these are just trends and fade, however must acknowledge they can be detrimental to our kids and even if they seem ridiculous to us, they are not to our kids. Offline factors that contribute to self-esteem can include school grades, popularity in school, talents, how many birthday parties you are invited to, body type and fashion sense, among many others.

Online Factors 

Online factors can both bolster and negatively impact our kids’ levels of self-esteem. Among these are the following:

  • How many likes you get on posts online 
  • Number of followers on social media 
  • Number of friends on social media 
  • Likes on photo, videos and posts on social media 
  • Watches of social media stories
  • Views of TikTok videos 
  • Inclusion in chat groups

This list of online factors that can impact self- esteem are possible because of the internet and smart devices, which have created a natural platform for social media.  Social media allows us to compare ourselves with others in the world, and not just our offline social circle and groups  - this can potentially play havoc with levels of self esteem.

How people online portray the ‘perfect life’

  • Influencers: we compare ourselves to influencers ‘living their best life’ and ‘wearing the best clothes’ and ‘eating out’, being ‘on holidays’ etc all the time Their lives look amazing and so much fun. In many cases these influencers are not even real physical people however. If you don’t believe me, check out Miquela.
  • Filters are often used to enhance photos. These can enhance people's looks, which then creates a false sense of self. Filters allow us to have  flawless skin, or different features such as big doll eyes with long eyelashes: of course looking in a mirror this is not what we see. Check out the Dove Project to see how images are manipulated
  • Posed Photos: we have all heard of ‘duck face’! And of course the hand on the hip like a teapot... And don’t even think about shooting me from below! 
  • Curated Lives: people tend to post all the good things in their life to give a sense of fun, popularity and success. This often leads to others feeling jealous and down about their own lives. We must always remember, everyone has bad days too and people are not  always living it up in luxury and fun, despite appearances!  
  • Exclusion: class WhatsApp, girls’ WhatsApp, lads’ WhatsApp, football only WhatsApp… We all experience how many group chats there are on numerous platforms. Exclusion from these can leave kids feeling left out, which can also contribute to lower self-esteem. 

The internet has created a culture in which people can easily compare themselves to others. However, we can not take away from the importance of this for kids today and how it can add to or subtract from their self-esteem.

We have created a downloadable discussion activity for you to try with your kids. This activity will allow you to gauge if your child understands what self-esteem is and the factors that they think are important for their self-esteem. It will help you better understand what they value online and offline, and where their self-worth comes from which is important to know in order to support bringing up a confident empowered child. 


Cyberbullying is bullying using technology. As with any form of bullying, it can have a devastating impact on a child. It can de defined as any behaviour or act that upsets another person, even if the intent is not to hurt the other person,

Common examples of cyberbullying are:

  • Exclusion from groups 
  • Mean comments 
  • Mean filters 
  • Mean posts 
  • Slagging on games
  • Tagging people in nasty things
  • Memes
  • ‘Bandwagoning’
  • Tagging people at a venue and leaving others out 

One of the most important things to get through to kids is that even if they think they are having a laugh or it is just for fun, if the other child feels bullied or upset they are entitled to feel that way, and it should be seen as bullying.

If your child is the victim of cyberbullying we suggest:

  • Respond positively and reassure them. Encourage them to talk openly and discuss options
  • Advise that they don’t respond or delete
  • Use online blocking & reporting mechanisms
  • Check out privacy settings on their online accounts
  • Talk to your child’s school, and the Gardai if involving serious harassment, threat of harm or indecent images or videos

If your child is cyberbullying we suggest:

  • Stay calm and tell them what you have heard
  • Ask them to explain from their point of view. Are they aware of the effects of this behaviour? Try to work out their motivation.
  • Ask them to stop. Plan to address the hurt caused, e.g. apologising, withdrawal of Internet or other privileges
  • Enlist the help of others if necessary

Cyberbullying can have devastating effects, so monitoring your child’s online activity is essential, and watching out for particular mood swings around online time, or a reluctance to go online anymore are possible signs that cyberbullying is occurring. Normalising discussion around online life will also encourage kids to come to you sooner when there is a problem.

This content has been checked and certified by Cyber Safe Ireland whose mission is to empower children, parents and teachers to navigate the online world in a stronger, smarter and safer way.

Cyber Safe Ireland

Non-profit organisation working towards a world in which children are using technology in a safe, positive and successful manner.

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