What Is Cyberbullying? Facts, Laws & Resources
- According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.2% percent of all students have reported experience with some kind of bullying.
- Another National Center for Education Statistics study published in 2020 reports that about 15% of students between the ages of 12 and 18 had been a victim of cyberbullying within a 12-month period.
- Youth who are part of the LGBTQ community are significantly more likely to experience cyberbullying. This study by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that 56% of students who identified as LGBTQ had experienced cyberbullying compared to just about a third of non-LGBTQ students.
- The Cyberbullying Research Center also found that about 16% of students had cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetime.
- Admissionsly notes that about 5.1% of students have bullied others in some way or form as of 2020.
- Teachers listed cyberbullying as the top online issue for students in a survey by Google, ahead of privacy, inappropriate content, and other concerns.
- The consequences of cyberbullying can be substantial for both the bullied and the bullies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those who are bullied are at an increased risk for anxiety and depression, as well as poor academic performance and even not finishing school; bullies are more likely to have problems with substance abuse and violence later in life.
What Is the Difference Between Cyberbullying and Bullying?
- Anonymity: While victims usually know who their bully is, online bullies may be able to hide their identities. The anonymity of the internet can lead to crueler or harsher abuses from the bully, all while the victim has no means of discovering who his or her harasser is.
- Relentless: Bullying typically ends once the victim is removed from the negative social situation. However, smartphones, laptops, and other devices have made it possible for people to communicate with each other at all hours and from nearly any location. Cyberbullies may be able to torment their victim 24 hours per day, seven days per week, making it difficult for the victim to escape it by going home or even changing schools.
- Public: With traditional bullying, often only people who interact with those involved will know of the abuse. However, when content is posted or shared online, it is possible that anyone may see it. This opens up the victim to more potential ridicule or pain from strangers. This is compounded by the anonymity afforded by virtual spaces; while bullying in person may be done covertly or out of view to avoid punishment, cyberbullies need not fear being witnessed in the act if their identities are not known.
- Permanent: Because online content is impossible to delete entirely, cyberbullying may damage the victim’s, or possibly the bully’s, reputation permanently. Even if the content is removed or deleted from the original site, someone may find it posted from screengrabs elsewhere later. This may negatively impact future employment, college admissions, or relationships for victims and bullies alike.
- Easy to Overlook: Cyberbullying may be harder for teachers, administrators, and parents to discover because they may not have access to students’ online activities. They may not be able to overhear or see the abuse taking place. Unless someone comes forward, parents and teachers may never know that bullying is taking place.
Examples of Cyberbullying
How to Identify Cyberbullying
Signs and Symptoms of Cyberbullying
- Anxiety or Anger: Pay attention to your teenager’s mood both during and after they use a mobile phone or computer. Do they consistently seem anxious, nervous, or otherwise upset when spending time online? Do they get angry or have outbursts when they are online?
- Secretive: Has your teen become secretive or defensive about their online activities? If they unexpectedly shut off devices when others approach, refuse to discuss what they do online, or get upset or agitated when you try to discuss this with them, they may be attempting to hide the fact that they are being bullied.
- Avoiding Technology: Take note of the frequency of the amount of time your teen spends online, especially if they have always enjoyed it. If they have suddenly stopped using their devices as frequently (or possibly altogether), they may be attempting to avoid a bully.
- Becoming Withdrawn: Even if your teenager has always been quiet or introverted, observe their social behavior. Do they want to spend more and more time away from their friends and peers? Have they suddenly started commenting on their lack of friends or how there is drama at school? Have they been pushing away people they are close to and wanting to spend more time alone?
- Increase in Messages: Has your teen started to receive a lot more messages or emails than they usually do? Are they from numbers or people you don’t recognize? Is your teenager evasive when you ask them who is contacting them?
- Depression: Has your teen’s mood changed? Do they often seem sad or depressed? Has there been a drastic change in their eating or sleeping patterns? Are they claiming to be sick more often to avoid going to school or social events? Have they lost interest in other activities or hobbies?
Why Children Do Not Discuss It
Signs Your Teen Might Be a Cyberbully
- Many Accounts: Does your teen have a large number of social media accounts on various websites? Are they under other names? Do you recognize the name listed on the account? They may be attempting to anonymously harass someone or infiltrate others’ accounts.
- Secretive: Is your teenager secretive about what they do online? Do they turn off or hide their screen when others approach them while they are online? Are they evasive or hostile when you ask them questions about their online activities? Do they get irritated or annoyed if you interrupt them while they are using a phone or computer?
- Long Hours Online: Pay attention to the amount of time your teen spends online. Is it excessive, especially compared to how much they have spent on the internet in the past? Are they obsessive about spending time on their devices or checking their messages? Do they prefer to spend time online at times of the day when they are less likely to be supervised, like before you get home from work or in the middle of the night?
- Lack of Remorse: Does your teenager seem to not care if their words or actions hurt others? Do they make snarky or rude comments, especially when using their phone or computer? Is this callousness new or previously out of character for your teen?
- New Friend Group: Has your teen recently made new friends who seem to be mean or aggressive? Do these friends have a history of bullying others themselves? Has your teenager become preoccupied with impressing them or becoming more popular with them? Peer pressure from new friends who seem aggressive can motivate many teens to start cyberbullying others.
- Becoming Withdrawn: Has your teen abandoned activities and hobbies in favor of spending more time online? Do they no longer want to spend time with close friends or family members, preferring to spend time alone with their devices? Do they appear to be depressed?
Why Teenagers Cyberbully Others
- Boredom: Some teens may simply be bored or craving attention. It is a way to add excitement or drama to their lives with very little effort. Cyberbullying often will become a new form of online entertainment.
- Peer Pressure: Some bullies may be trying to impress their peers, become more popular, or maintain their social status. Being part of a group can give people a false sense of security that their actions are acceptable or normal.
- Revenge: Teens may choose to cyberbully someone because they feel wronged by that person or that their victim deserves it. The bully may feel that their behavior is justified due to the pain the victim previously inflicted upon them.
- Anonymity: Cyberbullies can embrace the chance to be anonymous by doing all of their harassment online under another identity. They may feel like they will not get caught and do not have to face their victim directly.
- Ignorance: Some cyberbullies may simply not realize that what they are doing is, in fact, bullying. They may think it is just a joke and not take the situation seriously.
The Potential Effects of Cyberbullying
- Decreased Self-Esteem: Bullying of all kinds is often detrimental to the victim’s self-esteem. Victims may believe that all of their peers dislike them and develop issues with trust and confidence.
- Emotional Distress: Cyberbullying can lead to a shift in mood or emotion in the victim. The constant stress of the attacks can make victims prone to outbursts of frustration, sadness, or anger as they try to cope with the bullying.
- Physical Symptoms: Victims may begin to develop frequent headaches, stomachaches, and trouble sleeping. Though they are not attacked physically by the bully, the ongoing stress of the harassment may still take a physical toll as the victim grows increasingly stressed and anxious.
- Depression: Cyberbullying can cause victims to develop depression. The constant stress and lowered self-esteem can cause them to feel hopeless, unloved, and sad.
- Suicidal Thoughts: A study published in ScienceDaily indicates that cyberbullying victims are twice as likely to attempt suicide or engage in self-harming behaviors. Bullying does not directly cause victims to commit suicide, but it does put them at a higher risk of doing so.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Guidelines for Appropriate Internet Use
- Privacy: Teach your young adult about the importance of maintaining privacy online. Make sure they know to never share personal information, such as physical addresses and phone numbers, with strangers online. Ensure they know to never share any of the passwords to their accounts, even with their close friends.
- Strangers: Let them know that the same rules apply to strangers online as they do in person. Make sure they know they should be careful about, or avoid altogether, talking to strangers online. Tell them that you do not always know what someone’s intentions are, and some people may try to befriend you to hurt you.
- Permanence: Remind your teen that once something is put online, it cannot ever be truly deleted — even if the post is removed. Let them know that they cannot anticipate or control who may eventually see that content, so they must think very carefully before sharing things online.
Educating Your Teen on Cyberbullying
How to Deal with a Cyberbully
- Do Not Engage: Encourage your teenager to avoid engaging with cyberbullies. It can be difficult to ignore purposefully inflammatory comments, but remind your teen that responding to their messages will only intensify the bully’s efforts and they are doing this to get a reaction. There is a greater chance that the bullying will stop if your teen ignores them.
- Block Them: Tell your teen they should block the phone number and social media accounts of anyone who bullies them. This is especially important if your teenager has trouble ignoring them or the bullies are very persistent. Bullies may make other accounts or recruit friends to continue tormenting your teenager, so encourage them to block those accounts too.
- Change Contact Info: If ignoring and blocking the cyberbullies does not help or intensifies their efforts, tell your teen that you can always change their contact information. Be sure they know that you are happy to help them update their phone number and email address.
- Make a Record: Ask that your teen document all messages, comments, or other abuses from bullies online. Teach them how to take a screenshot and ask them not to delete any messages. Having proof of the bullying will be helpful if you need to contact any authorities.