What is Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an aggressive act targeted at an individual or group of individuals through digital means.  Essentially, it is when somebody tries to embarrass, humiliate, threaten, stalk, or harass another person online.  

This is a very general definition, and highlights that cyberbullying comes in many forms, and can happen on any device, and through any online platform (games, social media sites, private messaging, etc.).  It can be perpetrated by somebody who is known or somebody who is a stranger. Sometimes it only happens online, but other times it is an extension of bullying that is happening at school.  It is also often the case that a person simultaneously is the aggressor and the victim.

Impact of cyberbullying

Kids who have been cyberbullied can experience lowered self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social isolation, substance abuse, suicide ideation, and in the most extreme cases, even suicide. Kids who are doing the cyberbullying also experience negative outcomes, including shame, guilt, school truancy, and substance abuse.

In some cases cyberbullying has been shown to be more emotionally damaging than traditional school yard bullying.  This is due in part to the Permanency of digital information. Once something is online, it’s there forever, which means that if you are the victim of cyberbullying, that conversation, or those photos, or that video is going to remain in its original form and every time you happen to see it, you will relive the cyberbullying experience.  The other reason is due to the 24/7 access to technology.It used to be that if a child was being harassed at school, he or she could come home and be safe from it.  Now with mobile devices will follow you into your house, and even your bedroom, there is no escape from it.

Kids aren’t always good at recognizing cyberbullying:

Research has shown that adolescents report that most of what youth post online about others is just joking or kidding around, and that very little of it is actually intended to harm.  This means that they downplay the impact on the victim, and expect that person to just get over it, or to not be impacted by it in the first place. This expectation and lack of validation further serve to isolate or upset the victim.

Kids don’t go to parents for help

Research shows that kids don’t come to parents or other adults about cyberbullying because they worry that adults either won’t get it or that they will take away their technology.  Unfortunately, this knee jerk reaction of taking the technology away (and a teen’s social life with it) is tantamount to punishing a child for being cyberbullied.  A better approach is to recognize that although cyberbullying is happening online, it is not about the technology.  It is ultimately a relationship problem, and that is what needs to be addressed.

What to do if your child is involved with cyberbullying:

The most important thing to do is to make sure your child is ok, and that their experiences are validated, and that they feel supported and know that you are going to be there and help them get through it.

Beyond this, unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what to do. It will depend on whether your child is the victim or the perpetrator (or both), whether the cyberbullying was with a stranger or a known person, whether the other person(s) involved is a child or an adult, whether it was a one-off event, or something that has been going on for a while, as well as the current emotional state of your child. We can’t say whether you need to contact school personnel, the authorities, or mental health professionals, but we have provided a list of good online cyberbullying resources that we have evaluated and assessed for how accurate they are, how up-to-date, and how useful.