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Cyberbullying: The New Face of Schoolyard Bullying

Published on Sep 12, 2019
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team

In the US, more teens than ever have access to a home computer or smartphone. Unfortunately, being connected isn’t without its issues for teens (or children and adults for that matter): In 2017, about 15% of students in grades 9 to 12 reported being subjected to cyberbullying during the past 12 months. Fortunately, there are things parents can do to make online socializing healthy for their children.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying (also called electronic or online bullying) is defined as using harmful words and actions in a digital environment, including on social media sites, apps, email, Web forums, and multi-player online games. It differs from traditional bullying because it:

  • Can be anonymous.
  • Can happen anywhere, and at any time.
  • Is easier to spread (go viral).
  • May go unnoticed by teachers and parents.

Examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Posting mean, hurtful, or embarrassing comments or rumors about a person.
  • Telling a person to kill or hurt himself or herself.
  • Making threats.
  • Pretending to be someone else in order to receive or post private information about a person.
  • Posting mean or hateful comments about a race, religion, or ethnicity.
  • Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about a person.
  • Threatening to make public a person’s personal information, such as social media accounts and other private data.

What is the impact of cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying isn’t a harmless “rite of passage” for today’s youth. On the contrary, it can lead to academic challenges, including avoiding going to school, dropping out of school, and difficulty concentrating in class. It can also lead to physical and mental issues such as depression, anxiety, problems with sleep, and substance abuse. In addition, research suggests that cyberbullying may have greater negative emotional effects than traditional bullying.

How can I tell if my child is being cyberbullied?

Children who are cyberbullied may not want to tell a parent about it because they may feel ashamed or be afraid of losing their digital privileges. However, there are signs that could indicate that your child is being cyberbullied. Be on the lookout for behaviors such as:

  • Appearing upset or nervous during or after using a digital device.
  • Being overly secretive about his or her online life.
  • Withdrawing from others and his or her usual activities.
  • Struggling with schoolwork or avoiding school.
  • Changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite.
  • Avoiding discussions about his or her digital activities.

What can I do to be aware of my child’s or teen’s online activities?

You can keep an eye on your child’s or teen’s online activities by monitoring his or her digital activities and by modeling positive online behavior.

Monitor your child’s or teen’s digital activities

  • Monitor his or her social media sites, apps, and browsing history.
  • Review his or her phone location and privacy settings; reset them if necessary.
  • Follow him or her on social media sites or have an adult family member or friend do so.
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest digital slang that children and teens are using.
  • Keep track of his or her usernames and passwords.
  • Set rules about appropriate digital behavior, content, and app use.
  • Consider using digital monitoring or blocking software.

Help guide your child’s or teen’s digital behavior

  • Talk with your child or teen about the importance of being respectful online and explain ways negative messages can hurt others.
  • Ask him or her about the messages they are seeing, sending, and receiving. Talk about how these messages make him or her feel.
  • Be a positive role model. If you use social media, keep your digital activities positive.
  • Talk with your child or teen about the harmful effects of cyberbullying and assure him or her that you will be there to help if he or she is ever the victim of cyberbullying.

Make time for regular dialogues with your child or teen

Talk often with your child or teen about his or her digital life. Reinforce that your intention is to have an open dialogue to ensure his or her well-being.

What can I do if my child or teen is being cyberbullied?

If your child or teen is being cyberbullied, there are DOs and DON’Ts that may help:

  • DON’T threaten to take away the device. Doing so may make your child or teen hesitant to be open with you about cyberbullying situations in the future.
  • DON’T respond to or forward the message.
  • DO save the messages for evidence.
  • DO report it to:
    • Your online service provider, if the cyberbullying violates the terms of service of the digital site.  
    • Law enforcement, if it involves threats of violence or stalking and hate, or is sexual in nature.  
    • Schools, so they are aware of the situation and can help monitor the situation.  
  • DO block the cyberbully.
  • DO talk with your child or teen about his or her feelings.
  • DO find support and resources for both you and your child or teen.


  • 1. Pew Research Center. Teens, Social Media & Technology 2018. Accessed July 23, 2019.
  • 2. Pew Research Center. Part 1: Experiencing Online Harassment. Accessed August 19, 2019.
  • 3. Stop Bullying Now Foundation. Welcome to the Stop Bullying Now Foundation. Accessed August 19, 2019.
  • 4. Institute of Education Sciences National Center for Education Statistics. Indicator 10: Bullying at School and Electronic Bullying. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  • 5. Healthychildren.org. Cyberbullying. Accessed July 2, 2019
  • 6. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Cyberbullying: Is it Happening in Your Class? Accessed August 19, 2019.
  • 7. Stopbullying.gov. Cyberbullying Tactics. Accessed July 23, 2019.
  • 8. Englander E, Donnerstein E, Kowalski R, Lin CA, Parti K. Defining Cyberbullying. Pediatrics. 2017;140(s2):148-151.
  • 9. KidsHealth.org. Cyberbullying. Accessed July 25, 2019.
  • 10. Stopbullying.gov. Digital Awareness for Parents. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  • 11. Stompoutbullying.org. How to Understand and Handle Cyberbullying—Tip Sheet. Accessed August 19, 2019.
  • 12. Stopbullying.gov. Establishing Rules. Accessed July 2, 2019.
  • 13. Stopbullying.gov. Report Cyberbullying. Accessed July 2, 2019.
External Resources

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