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.

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.

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.
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.