New visitor restrictions are in place due to COVID-19 (coronavirus). Learn more and review the latest information about the virus.

Emotional Health

Cyberbullying: What Parents Need to Know

How to Tell if Your Child Is Being Bullied Online

Chances are, there’s a child in your life who has been bullied at school at one time or another. In fact, more than 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year, and approximately 160,000 teens skip school every day because of it. Bullying comes in many shapes and forms — but nowadays, cyberbullying is the main culprit. Nationwide, about 21 percent of students ages 12-18 have experienced some type of cyberbullying.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that takes place using electronic technology, including cell phones and computers, and can be done in many ways. Some cyberbullies send mean or menacing emails, spread rumors, share embarrassing or personal photos, or even impersonate victims with fake social media profiles. Other cyberbullies send unwanted sexual messages or photos, called “sexts or sexting.”

Cyberbullying is one of the most painful forms of harassment because it can happen all day, every day, 24/7. A child does not have to be in school or on the playground to get cyberbullied, making it more difficult for victims to get away from the situation.

The anonymity of the internet also influences cyberbullying. While some bullies are not afraid to reveal their identities, others remain anonymous. Anonymous bullies can feel empowered to harass or ridicule even worse than they would if they were face-to-face with their target.

Signs and Effects of Cyberbullying

Unfortunately, you might not know your child is suffering from cyberbullying until you start witnessing the negative consequences. Cyberbullying can make a child or teen feel hurt, helpless, isolated, depressed and even suicidal.

Similar to traditional bullying, kids who experience cyberbullying are more likely to:

  • Complain about going to school 
  • Skip school 
  • Experiment with drugs or alcohol  
  • Withdraw from activities or sports 
  • Receive low grades 
  • Have low self esteem 
  • Experience in-person bullying 
  • Lose sleep 
  • Experience changes in weigh

What Parents Can Do

Children are often unwilling to talk to parents or teachers about cyberbullying for many reasons. They might be embarrassed or scared to “tattle tale.” They might also be worried about losing their phone or computer privileges. If you suspect your child is being bullied, either through digital or traditional means, opening the line of communication with your child is key. Establishing your home as a “safe space” where topics can be discussed without judgment or consequence can help a bullied child open up.

While privacy is important to teens, parents should never hesitate to check in on their child’s digital world. Frequently check text messages, group chats, and social media accounts to make sure there’s no questionable content or behavior. Research shows that now, more than ever before, parents are committed to monitoring their children’s online behavior and to making sure computers and cellphones are being used appropriately.

Parents can also find ways to be proactive and stop cyberbullying before it starts. Encourage your child to avoid putting anything online or in email that they wouldn't want the world to see. (This is a good lifelong lesson, even for adults.) And make sure they know not to share passwords or personal information like home address or social security number with anyone online.

If you think your child is being affected by bullying of any kind, schedule a meeting with your school’s guidance counselor. If you notice signs that your child is suffering physically or mentally from bullying or cyberbullying, like losing sleep, losing weight, or acting depressed, talk with your family’s care provider. A physician or counselor can help you and your child find healthy ways to navigate this difficult time.