For as long as people have been living together in communities, there have been bullies. You’ve probably dealt with a bully at some point, and if you have children or younger relatives, there’s a good chance that they have as well. In a 2020 report, 73% of students that responded said that they feel like they have been bullied in their lifetime, with 44% saying that it had happened in the last 30 days. It’s a common problem that parents and educators are well aware of.

Yet over the last few decades, we have seen a new type of bullying emerge: cyberbullying. Taking place entirely online, cyberbullying can be just as bad as face-to-face bullying, and it is a problem that more than half of U.S. teens have experienced at some point in their lives. Worse yet, it is an issue that most teenagers think that teachers, social media companies, and politicians have failed at addressing.

The signs of cyberbullying might not be as immediately apparent as in cases where the bullying takes place in-person, but parents need to be more mindful of them and the serious impact that cyberbullying can have on their children.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cellphones, computers, and tablets. It can occur across many different locations, including:

  • Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, etc.)
  • Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards
  • Text messaging and messaging apps
  • Online gaming communities
  • Email

Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing content with someone that is harmful, threatening, false, or meant to cause humiliation or embarrassment. Examples of this include:

  • Sending threats or hurtful messages
  • Spreading lies about someone that can damage their reputation
  • Posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media
  • Doxing someone, leaking their private information
  • Impersonating someone and sending hurtful messages on their behalf
  • Encouraging self-harm or suicide

Cyberbullying can be a source of stress and anxiety, and depending on the tactics used can elicit feelings of fear, anger, or shame. In some cases, cyberbullying can even cross over into unlawful or criminal behavior, such as in cases where private information is shared or one’s behavior is deemed to be discriminatory in nature.

What Are The Consequences of Cyberbullying?

As with other kinds of bullying, cyberbullying can have serious long-term consequences. Being targeted by cyberbullies can be overwhelming, especially if lots of kids are participating in the bullying. Victims often feel helpless and unable to feel truly safe, and regular cyberbullying attacks can wear down on a children’s sense of self-worth, leading to depression, anxiety, social isolation, and can even cause kids to become physically ill. Cyberbullying also increases the risk for suicide, meaning its significance cannot be overlooked.

The victim isn’t the only one who gets hurt either. Oftentimes cyberbullies don’t realize how damaging their actions are, but the punishment for them can be quite serious. Schools may dismiss bullies from athletic teams or other extracurricular activities, or even go so far as to suspend or expel them if their actions are deemed serious enough. Additionally, some types of cyberbullying may break the law: if the bully’s harassment focuses on things like a person’s gender, religion, race, or sexual orientation, this could be considered a violation of a state’s anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws. If the police get involved, the bullies could face serious legal penalties.

What Can Be Done About Cyberbullying?

Not all children are willing to open up if they are being bullied, so it’s important to keep an eye on their mood. Be aware of their mood: are they suddenly anxious or stressed? Has there been some drama at school or among their friend groups? Be aware of potential symptoms of depression such as dropping grades, losing interest in favorite activities, or withdrawing socially. Be sure you communicate with them daily, letting them know that they can trust you.

If you know for sure that your child is being cyberbullied, you might want to consider contacting their school or the parents of those doing the bullying. If there’s any “upside” to be found from cyberbullying becoming more common compared to more traditional in-person bullying tactics, it’s that cyberbullying generally leaves a lot more evidence to prove that it took place. Cyberbullies often forget that very little disappears once it’s been posted online: emails, text messages, and DMs remain as long as the recipient doesn’t delete them, while images and videos posted on social media can be easily saved or recovered.

Most importantly, be sure to tend to your child’s emotional needs. If they are upset, take their feelings seriously, as they are likely in a very emotionally vulnerable place. Don’t be afraid to contact a counselor or therapist as well if you think that it would be helpful. Cyberbullying can be a physically and psychologically exhausting experience, but so long as parents are attentive and proactive, they can address the problem and help their kids move on.