Cyberbullying: important information for parents


Cyberbullying or virtual bullying (cyberbullying) is a growing problem because more kids than ever are using cell phones and other digital devices to text, post, and chat.  But there are things parents can do to help kids socialize online appropriately.

What is cyberbullying?


Also known as cyberbullying, this form of bullying includes a range of harmful words and actions in the digital world. Here are some examples:

  • Sending aggressive messages to someone.
  • Sharing embarrassing photos of others.
  • Making up and spreading false stories about other people.
  • Telling others to ignore someone or exclude them from activities.

Virtual bullying can occur by text message, social networking sites, apps, email, or online games involving multiple players.

How is virtual bullying different from bullying/harassment?

When cyberbullying first became an issue, experts were uncertain whether it was an entirely new type of bullying or whether traditional bullying was moving to new platforms. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report concluded that cyberbullying and stalking are more alike than different.  However, there are some differences:

  • When and where. Face-to-face bullying usually occurs during the day, for example, at school. But cyberbullying can happen anywhere, any day of the week, at any time.
  • No names are needed. While anonymous bullying is not common, either in person or online, virtual bullying can happen without knowing who is sending the messages.
  • Word spreads. Malicious or embarrassing posts on social media can quickly apply online and go “viral.” This can increase the harm or embarrassment (discomfort) of a bullying experience.

As with traditional bullying, children can experience cyberbullying in various ways, and roles sometimes change within a situation. They can be the target of bullying, bullying others, or witnessing online bullying.

Is cyberbullying harmful?

For generations, bullying was considered a childhood “rite of passage.” But research now shows how harmful bullying can be, both for the children being bullied and those who bully others. Some adverse effects of bullying include:

  • Academic difficulties.  Bullied children may avoid school, have trouble concentrating in class, or even drop out of school.
  • Physical and mental health.  Bullying increases the risk of depression, anxiety, and sleep problems. Studies show that it may also put them at greater risk for substance abuse later in life.

What should I do if my child is a victim of cyberbullying?

It’s difficult for parents to know the best way to react if their child is a victim of bullying, whether in person or online. Here are some examples:

  • Take away their access. Don’t threaten to take away the device or cut off your child’s internet time. This could be perceived as punishment, so they may be less willing to tell you about bullying situations in the future
  • Documentation. If there is evidence online, save a screenshot. This could be useful if there is a need to report it.
  • Support. Talk to your child about the experience. Studies show that having just one person listen and support them helps children who have been bullied handle the situation better.
  • Speak up. Most social media platforms have a process for reporting misconduct. If a classmate is bullying your child, you can report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, you can consider reporting it to the police.
  • Seek to support yourself. A child’s experience of bullying can also be stressful for parents. Parents may want to consider finding someone to talk to for support.
  • Seek out resources. Talk to your pediatrician about resources for dealing with bullying.

How parents can prevent cyberbullying?

  • Talk about “digital citizenship.” Talk to your children about the importance of being respectful online and how negative messages can hurt others. And remember: you are the role model. So if you use social media, be sure to set an excellent example of positive online interactions.
  • Be vigilant early and often. Ask your children what kinds of messages they see, send, and receive and how they affect you. Early online experiences are essential and can set the tone and expectations for your child going forward.
  • Make a plan. Use our family media consumption plan to establish guidelines and norms that are important to your family.