How to spot the signs of cyberbullying and address it head-on with the young person in your life.
Today’s bullies are where many of us are spending more and more time – online. All young people should know basic internet safety and have established guidelines with parents, caregivers and teachers on how to safely spend time online.
As we support kids and teens in staying safe and making good choices, it’s important to be aware of cyberbullying, how to recognize the signs and what to do stop the situation.
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place digitally – via phones, tablets and computers. According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of teens have access to a smartphone, making it a common tool for cyberbullying.
In 2022, Boys & Girls Clubs of America's data shows that while more youth report being bullied on school property (37%) versus being electronically bullied (18%), youth are also less likely to tell an adult when they are electronically bullied versus in-person.
Since cyberbullying can feel separate from reality or easier to hide, many kids and teens may simply not be reporting it, meaning it's especially critical that adults know the signs of cyberbullying and build caring, trusting relationships where kids can feel comfortable coming to them with problems.
Cyberbullying can happen via texts and messaging, and on social media, email, gaming sites, chat networks, apps and forums. It includes any bullying behavior that takes place in the digital world, such as mean and persistent comments on social media or via text message, creating pages or accounts to cause someone embarrassment, spreading rumors online, impersonating someone digitally, etc.
While electronic bullying can take many forms, it generally has one or both of these in common:
And while a young person may not be the target of cyberbullying, they may be actively seeing it online between friends and classmates or on sites they're spending time on. When witnessing cyberbullying, kids and teens may not know what to do or choose to "stay out of it" instead of reporting it.
Cyberbullying can affect mental health, including lowering a young person's self-esteem and causing anxiety and depression. It can also interfere with physical wellbeing, causing sleepless nights and changes to appetite.
Since many kids choose not to report being bullied online, it’s important to be able to spot the signs of cyberbullying so parents can check in with your child, assess what's going on and be able to support them in stopping the situation.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, here are some things to look for when you’re worried the young person in your life is being cyberbullied.
A child being cyberbullied may:
If your child is experiencing signs of being cyberbullied, ask them what's going on in their lives and if they've seen anything online that's made them upset. It's important they know you're on their team, whatever is happening, and that you're there to help.
If you find out your young person is indeed being cyberbullied, remember that you can provide support.
What to do when a young person is being cyberbullied:
In some cases, your child may be a witness to someone else being cyberbullied. Talk to your young person about being an ally to the victim when they come across these situations and let them know that they should:
When you’re equipped to identify the signs of cyberbullying, you can better help the young person in your life. It’s also critical to keep an open line of communication around digital safety, empowering your young person to be an informed digital citizen who can prevent, recognize and stop cyberbullying in its tracks.
Learn more about how Boys & Girls Clubs of America is committed to the safety and wellbeing of millions of young people by creating safe, inclusive spaces; developing programs that support digital citizenship; and our commitment to stopping bullying.
*If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a toll-free number 1-800-273-TALK(8255) that connects the caller to a certified crisis center near where the call is placed. The Lifeline is available for everyone, is free, and confidential. Talking with someone about your thoughts and feelings can save your life.
** Remember, any online harassment that is sexual in nature should be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at CyberTipline.org or 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Boys & Girls Clubs of America provides safe places, caring mentors and skill-building programs to help youth reach their full potential. Check out our latest resources and stories on technology’s impact on young people: