Last Updated: 19-Feb-2012

      Bullies are notorious for tormenting their victims face-to-face – at school, on the playground, in sports. But now, cyberbullying (or online bullying) opens the door to 24-hour harassment through computers, cell phones, gaming consoles, and other Internet-enabled means. The full scope of cyberbullying – using the Internet for repeated, unwanted, or cruel behavior against someone – is difficult to measure. However, research indicates that between 30 and 50 percent of teens report having been a victim of online bullying.*

How Cyberbullying Works?

      Unlike physical bullying, where the victim can often walk away, the Internet is always “on.” Though many victims know the bully, cyberbullies can be anonymous. And, cyberbullying can be virtually invisible to parents and other adults. A cyberbully may:

  • Send hurtful or threatening messages to a victim’s cell phone, harass a person in an online game, post embarrassing pictures on a social Web site (like MySpace or Facebook), or share a humiliating video on a site such as YouTube.

  • Disclose secrets or private information – for example, by forwarding a confidential e-mail or text message.

  • Deliberately shut someone out of an online group – an instant messaging (IM) buddy list or social networking page, for example.

  • Impersonate the victim and then post hateful comments or belittle the victim’s friends on a blog.

  • Pretend to befriend a someone, gain his or her trust, and then betray that trust.

Cyberbullying Hurts

      Cyberbullying methods may be virtual, but the pain is real–anger, embarrassment, fear, confusion. Cyberbullying can be particularly devastating because many teens and “tweens” (kids age 9 to 12) count on their online and phone connections with others as a vital part of their social life.

      Victims of cyberbullying may withdraw from friends, avoid school, experience depression, lash out, consider–or even commit–suicide. And, the bully’s abuse can echo forever when college administrators, employers, friends, and others who search the Internet for a name years later may find the lies and insults.

      Cyberbullying hurts bullies, too. They are more likely to be disliked by teachers, find it hard to make or keep friends, and face higher rates of unsuccessful relationships, failure at work, substance abuse, or imprisonment.

      Bullying is not “a phase,” nor is it a normal part of growing up. The repercussions of cyberbullying can be so grave that most U.S. states have passed or are proposing laws to make it a crime.

Help Kids Avoid Cyberbullying

      Encourage children to make friends and to look out for each other. Cyberbullies are less likely to target those whom they perceive to have a strong network of friends. If a victim has friends who rally around him or her, the bullying usually stops.

Watch over kids

  •  Ask your children what they’re doing online. What may have started as a simple argument with one friend can slide into repeated online assaults with others joining in.

  • Look for signs of online bullying. For example, getting upset when online or talking or texting on the phone, or a reluctance to go to school.

  • For the youngest ones, it’s still a good idea to put the family computer and Internet-connected game consoles in a central location at home.

Talk with kids about cyberbullying

  • With older kids, it’s especially important to have frank discussions. Teenagers have so many ways to access the Internet that putting the computer in a central spot isn’t effective.

  • Encourage your children to report bullying to you. Promise that you will take action on their behalf and explain what you will do. Reassure them that you won’t curtail their phone or computer privileges. 

  • Let children know they should never, under any circumstances, bully someone. Make the consequences clear.

  • Urge kids not to share passwords or other information that could be used to bully them, and not to loan their cell phones or laptops.

Get help from technology

What to do if someone is being Cyberbullied?

Children need to know that you can and will give positive, active, and predictable support.
Act immediately. Your child needs to know that you can and will help. Don’t wait to see if the abuse will stop. If you feel that your child is physically at risk, call the police at once.

Acknowledge the pain. It’s important for kids to hear you affirm that what happened wasn’t fair or right. Make sure they understand:

  • That “only weaklings tattle” is a myth. Those who get help are the ones who are not willing to be bullied.

  • They are not at fault. The bully is not attacking because of some flaw–“I’m fat, a nerd, wear glasses…” The bully is simply justifying his or her actions.

Tell your kids not to respond or retaliate because bullies are looking for a reaction. Don’t answer a bully’s calls, or reply to (or even read) text messages or online attacks. Do save the material in case the authorities need it.

Block anyone whose behavior is inappropriate or threatening in any way. Check with the service – social networking, IM, cell phone–to find out how.

Report the problem. Every effort should be made to hold the cyberbully accountable.

  • If the bully is a student, consider reporting it to the school for disciplinary action.

  • Report bullying to the Web site or company where the abuse occurred. For example, in Microsoft® services or software, look for a Report Abuse link or contact us at

*Source: Family Online Safety Institute Annual Conference, November 2009


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