There’s a new breed of bullies targeting youngsters while they play computer games online.

It often happens when the victims are on their own, in their homes, maybe even in their bedrooms while the rest of their family are asleep – places that are supposed to be private and safe.

According to a survey carried out last year, more than half of young people playing online games have experienced bullying.

BACP member Sarah Press, who works as a therapist at a school for pupils with special educational needs, spoke to us about ‘in-game bullying’ as part of Anti-Bullying Week, which runs from 12 until 16 November.

“This isn’t like school bullies targeting children in the playground, or nicking their dinner money. This is far more complex and invasive. These young people turn on their computers to have some fun and they end up being tormented by bullies,“ Sarah said.

“The young people affected are often gaming on their own, in their bedrooms. Sometimes they’re secretive because they are playing these games in the dark, when they should be asleep. Their parents don’t even know they are gaming.

“The bullies can be anywhere on the planet. They don’t know them, they never see them, but they have a huge impact on their victim’s lives and their mental health.

“Life can be really hard for a young person affected by this, especially if they have special needs and communication may be a struggle for them anyway.

Very complex

Children can be bullied through computer games in a variety of ways: from friending and un-friending, or players ganging up on each other, to demands for money.

Players can make up false identities, make claims about their victims and spread rumours online.

“I’ve worked with young people for 20 years – and this is a really big issue. It’s very complex and different to traditional bullying,” Sarah added.

“There are similar elements to grooming. Sometimes players are given online gifts. It’s about wanting to be part of a gang.”

She says that as many parents don’t play computer games online, they don’t realise how their children can be targeted.

“Young people can be very secretive about this. They don’t want to admit it’s happened, they’re ashamed. Many parents aren’t aware of it; how it’s everywhere.”

Important signs

But she added that there are important signs parents can look out for that might indicate if their child is having problems.

They include: changes in behaviour, general unhappiness, failing to attend school, wanting to be asleep all the time and a different skin tone or pallor.

It can affect children’s esteem and confidence.

Listening to your child, understanding what they are going through and counselling can all help young people who are affected, said Sarah.

“Bullying is like a worm. It gets inside your head. Even if the bully is not there or the computer console is turned off, it still gets to you. It still keeps burrowing,” she added.

“It is awful that children can’t feel safe in their own private spaces, their own bedrooms.”

To find a counsellor who specialises in children and young people, see our Therapist directory.