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What is cyberbullying?


  1. Cyberbullying is similar to other types of bullying, but it takes place through text messages, email, instant messaging, social networking sites, and other websites.
  2. Cyberbullying puts children and teenagers at higher risk of alcohol and drug use, problems at school, low self-esteem, and other issues.
  3. If your child experiences cyberbullying, discourage them from retaliating. Instead, encourage them to save the evidence and talk to an adult they trust.

Communication tools, such as cell phones and social media, are becoming more sophisticated each year. Internet use among middle school and high school students is on the rise. Many youth are pulled into intensely emotional, frequently dramatic, and sometimes dangerous social worlds online.

As a result, the problems that many students face at school don't end at the final bell. Communication technologies may seem like harmless tools for making plans or dropping a quick note, but they can also be dangerous.

As long your child’s cell phone or computer is on, it can act as a pathway for the gossip and power games that are common in many youth-focused social environments. With the click of a button, a harmful rumor or picture can be spread to your child’s entire school and even to strangers.

This is the foundation of cyberbullying, and the electronic means of contact may include:

  • email
  • instant messaging
  • text messaging on cell phones
  • digital photos sent via cell phone
  • social networking sites, such as Facebook
  • blogs and other web pages

Learn more about the risks of cyberbullying and steps you can take to stop it.

What are the risks of cyberbullying?

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), cyberbullied kids are more likely to experience face-to-face bullying than their peers. They’re also more likely to:

  • use alcohol and drugs
  • skip school or be unwilling to attend
  • get poor grades at school
  • experience lower self-esteem
  • experience more health problems

These issues and others like them play out across the country. They signal a desperate need for parents and educators to reevaluate the common conception of bullying as a face-to-face issue. It’s essential to pay attention to the role that technology plays in bullying and harassment.

What makes cyberbullying different?

Compared to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying poses some new challenges. For example, your child may face anonymous bullying, hurtful communications that go viral, or even around-the-clock harassment.


You don't necessarily know who's bullying you when it happens online or through text messages. Bullies can make themselves anonymous by using fake screen names, temporary email addresses, or texting from someone else's phone.

For many people, that anonymity makes it easier to say something hurtful. It can embolden bullies who may be too scared to do or say something to your child’s face.

Anonymous cyberbullying can leave your child feeling suspicious, paranoid, and socially anxious. It can also make it harder for youth, parents, educators, and law enforcement to learn who’s responsible.

Instant and viral

It only takes a second to forward a hurtful email, text message, or image. This makes it all too easy for cyberbullying attacks to spread quickly throughout your child’s social group, to the rest of their school, or even to the general public.

When someone scrawls a mean message on a bathroom stall at school, only the people who see it can read it. But an online message can be posted on a website or emailed to many people in a matter of seconds.

An embarrassing moment can be amplified by its sudden spread. Pictures and messages can even be manipulated to inaccurately represent what someone looks like or has said or done.

This makes cyberbullying harder to trace, easier to develop, and unpredictable in ways that face-to-face bullying is not.

Around the clock

Unlike face-to-face bullying, which tends to happen in school or other social environments, cyberbullying can follow victims around wherever they go. It can happen at any time of night or day, whenever your child’s phone or computer is at hand.

And because youth often need their cell phones or computers for legitimate uses, it may be hard or even impossible for them to escape their bully's torment.

When the messages never seem to stop or disappear, cyberbullying can create a feeling of ongoing harassment.

Confronting cyberbullying

The first step to confronting cyberbullying is building awareness of the issue. It’s important to remain vigilant, especially since youth are less likely to report incidences of cyberbullying than traditional bullying.

Watch out for signs that your child is being cyberbullied. Some warning signs could include:

  • avoiding their computer or cell phone
  • avoiding conversations about their computer or phone use
  • seeming stressed when they receive text messages or other communications
  • withdrawing from social life
  • declining grades or interest in school
  • sleeping or eating poorly
  • showing changes in their emotions or behavior

If your child has been bullied online or on their phone, don't take away their internet or phone privileges. Try to talk openly and calmly with them about what happened. Tell them you’re there to be their advocate.

Then consider approaching a teacher or school official about the situation. Bullying is a community problem that requires a community solution. It may be necessary to contact local law enforcement officials — especially if threatening messages are being sent to your child.

Tips for your children

If your child is being cyberbullied, they may feel helpless. It's important to help them understand that cyberbullying isn’t OK and they don't have to put up with it.

Here are a few useful tips to share with your child to help them handle cyberbullying:

  • Don't respond directly. The bully wants your reaction; so don't give it to them.
  • Don't retaliate. Getting even just turns you into a bully too, while generating a cycle of aggression.
  • Save the evidence. One good thing about cyberbullying is that you can save the evidence to show to someone who may be able to help.
  • Talk to an adult you trust, such as a parent, teacher, or school counselor. If you don’t know any adults you feel comfortable speaking to, report the bully’s behavior anonymously at school.
  • Don't be a passive bystander. If you get a hurtful message about someone else, don't forward it. Report it or let the person who sent it know their behavior isn’t acceptable.

By working together, youth, parents, teachers, and other community members can help stop cyberbullying.

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