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What Is Cyberbullying?

As a society, we’re all too familiar with bullying — and we’re becoming more and more familiar with what cyberbullying is.  

Young people have been bullied for generations on playgrounds, on school buses, and in school hallways. Bullies themselves, who are a clear example of out-of-control teens, have been around forever, attempting to intimidate or harm those they perceive as weaker or lesser than themselves.  

Now, as the world grows more connected through the Internet and various social media platforms, bullying has gone virtual, and the effects are detrimental to the victims. 

Keep reading for a closer look at cyberbullying, including how it affects its victims, and what to do if your child is being bullied online. 

The Definition of Cyberbullying 

Cyberbullying is the posting, sending, or sharing of a harmful or fake image, text, or video about someone else. This can be done from any kind of Internet-connected device and typically happens via text, social media platforms, or online forums. 

It’s particularly damaging because it’s usually shared in places where others can participate in, transmit, and view content that can include harmful pictures, videos, or words. 

Many cyberbullies may not bully in real life because technology creates a disconnect, and they can’t see their victims. This allows them to cross lines they otherwise wouldn’t — and extends their reach. 

Students can’t get away from cyberbullying, said Jennifer Greif Green in a recent U.S. News & World Report article. Green is an associate professor and child clinical psychologist at Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development.  

“Cyberbullying is available 24 hours a day and has this permanent quality where things get circulated and don’t disappear,” she said in the article. “Oftentimes, it’s also hidden, and adults aren’t aware in the same way they are of in-person bullying.” 

Types of Cyberbullying 

Multiple types of cyberbullying can affect your teen, including: 

  • Flaming: Using hateful language and posting insults about someone. 
  • Cyberstalking: Repeatedly harassing someone or threatening someone. 
  • Trolling: Deliberately using untrue and/or controversial statements to provoke people. 
  • Catfishing: Pretending to be someone else to lure another person into a fake relationship. 
  • Creating fake profiles or accounts to post personal or false information about someone. 

Other types of cyberbullying 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, additional types of cyberbullying include: 

  • Posting a mean or hurtful photo or video. 
  • Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone. 
  • Doxing someone, which refers to making a person’s personal information public (e.g., their address, social security number, credit card number, or phone number). 

5 Signs of Cyberbullying 

While the signs of cyberbullying can vary from person to person, they include: 

  • Being visibly upset after using the Internet or phone. 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends. 
  • Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed. 
  • Declining grades. 
  • Not wanting to go to school or asking to come home early. 
Teen belonging to a different ethnicity than a peer experiences cyberbullying because she’s different.
Teen belonging to a different ethnicity than a peer experiences cyberbullying because she’s different.

Who Is Affected By Cyberbullying?  

The Internet is not a safe place for many.  

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System findings, 15.7% of youths in ninth to 12th grades were electronically bullied (i.e., bullied through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media).  

Teens typically affected by cyberbullying are those who are perceived as “different” than those who are doing the bullying. This includes: 

  • People of different ethnicities. 
  • People of different genders. 
  • People of different religions. 
  • People with disabilities. 
  • People of different sexual orientations. 

In fact, according to a 2021 Cyberbullying Research Center study involving U.S. youths ages 13-17, the rate of cyberbullying victimization among LGBTQ youths was 50% higher than that of non-LGBTQ youths (31.7% to 21.8%).  

Sometimes, people are bullied because of jealousy, for reporting inappropriate actions of others, or for taking a stand about something. In some cases, it’s not clear why particular people are targeted. 

How Cyberbullying Is Harmful to Teens  

Cyberbullying is harmful to the mental health and self-esteem of teenagers. For example, studies by groups including the National Institutes of Health have found that not only does bullying create a significant risk of depression in teens who are victims, but often, the bullies themselves are at significant risk as well. 

For the victims, it can be downright devastating. The pain and shame caused by bullying can cause severe anxiety, depression, and more. Many victims will close social media and other accounts or even change their phone numbers. Many create fake accounts in fear of using their own accounts and being bullied further. 

Because peer groups online can often reflect peer groups in real life, those who are bullied may not be able to face classmates at school or elsewhere, and grades will often suffer as well.  

Another serious mental health impact is that the victims have also become suicidal* in some cases. 

5 Steps To Take If Your Child Is a Victim of Cyberbullying 

Here are five steps you can take if your child is being bullied online: 

  1. Report bullying online to the appropriate platform, and encourage your child to block any bullies. 
  1. Report cyberbullying to your teen’s school administration and a school counselor. 
  1. Alert your teen’s therapist, if they’re in therapy. If they’re not, consider finding a therapist for them. 
  1. Screenshot abusive content as evidence for any authorities. 
  1. Call the police if you witness any explicit photos, hate crimes, stalking, or threats. 

Cyberbullying Wrapup 

Cyberbullying is a harmful and pervasive form of bullying that can cause significant harm to your teen. 

The victims of cyberbullying often feel defenseless and helpless, and serious anxiety, depression, or worse can occur.  

Watch for signs of online bullying in your teen, and take action if you see them. By being alert and notifying the proper people, including school officials, a therapist, and law enforcement authorities if needed, you can get your teen the help they need to deal with — and heal from — cyberbullying. 

*This article is for informational purposes only and not to be considered medical advice. If your child is having a mental health emergency, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for immediate support by calling, texting, or chatting 988. You can also text HOME to 741741 — the Crisis Text Line — from anywhere in the country to talk with a trained crisis counselor.   

Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today!    

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Embark Behavioral Health

Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-based approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual counseling, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), short-term residential treatment, wilderness therapy, and long-term residential treatment, visit www.embarkbh.com.