Cyberbullying 101: Everything You Need to Know and Four Things You Can do to Fight It
Posted on Nov 30 2020 by Aaron Heldt
“A girl in the year under me sent me nasty messages via Facebook. They were quite unfriendly and really made me feel bad—I’d never even spoke to the girl before them. She didn’t know anything about me, still, she judged me. It’s hurtful when people judge you for no good reason, when people make up lies about you, and when they isolate you.”
Experiences like the fifteen-year-old girl’s shared above are becoming all too common among teenagers across the globe. Bullying has been an ever-present, unstoppable virus among students of all ages, and sadly, it has figured out how to extend its reach from the schoolyard to cyberspace. The problem and effects of cyberbullying have continued to rise as 95% of teenagers today find themselves “plugged in” for school, work, and/or social purposes. Fortunately, there are things that everyone—students, parents, educators, and community members—can do to fight it and keep it from reaching teenagers.
What is Cyberbullying?
The word “cyberbullying” was first used in the year 1998. A basic dictionary definition defines it as “the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student) often done anonymously.” While this definition is accurate, since 1998, it has evolved into something much more than just mean-spirited electronic messages. There are other types of cyberbullying including the sharing of embarrassing photos or screenshots, cyberstalking, exclusion from online groups, and shared private information. The Cyberbullying Research Center has found that there are four main parts to cyberbullying:
- Intentionality – The bullying behavior is done purposely. It is not accidental.
- Repetition – There is a clear pattern of behavior, not a single, isolated incident.
- Damage – The bullying target must feel that they were harmed.
- Electronic Devices – All (or most) of the mistreatment takes place via cell phones, computers, or other digital devices.
What Makes Cyberbullying Different from Traditional Bullying?
While cyberbullying does share some similarities with traditional bullying, it also has several aspects that are different. Arguably, these can make it more harmful than “regular” in-person bullying that most people are familiar with. Key differences include the following characteristics:
Cyberbullies have the ability to hide their true identities online. Bullies can use fake email addresses, fake names, or completely mask their identity through different outlets, including text messaging, social networking sites, and chat rooms. This means that victims may be left questioning who is targeting them, as well as why they are being targeted. The secrecy provided to bullies’ identities online can also lead to more severe online behavior from the bully.
Typically, traditional bullying can be stopped by simply removing victims from the situation, by going home or even changing schools. However, with cyberbullying, it is almost impossible for victims to escape their attackers. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other devices make communication possible at all hours of the day, meaning bullies can continue to harass their targets regardless of their physical location.
With traditional face-to-face bullying, the number of people involved is limited to only people closely involved in the situation. Cyberbullying creates the opportunity for more people to become targets, aggressors, or even witnesses. This means that the potential number of people involved in any given situation is unlimited. Because of the anonymity provided to attackers, they can also be bolder in their interactions, as there is less chance of being caught.
It is impossible to completely delete something once it has been posted online. Even if a cyberbully were to delete their original negative content, it is possible that someone else may have already posted the content elsewhere. This can be damaging for the target, as they cannot ever fully escape their harassment. It can also be damaging for the bully, negatively affecting their reputation permanently.
Difficult to Catch
Cyberbullying can be easily overlooked by parents, teachers, and other authority figures. They may not have access to students’ online accounts, preventing them from being able to see or overhear the bullying happen. Even the most vigilant adults can miss incidents, simply because they lack the technical know-how and/or time to keep track of what students are up to day in and day out. Even if a bully can be identified, some adults can find themselves lacking the knowledge to know how to appropriately respond.
Why do People Cyberbully?
Kidshealth.org said it best when they said that “there are probably as many reasons as there are bullies” for why young people choose to be an online bully. Some may be acting out simply out of boredom or a need for attention. Others may be trying to impress peers or fit into a group. Cyberbullies are often also seeking revenge against someone they feel has wronged them, believing their victim deserves to be treated poorly.
It is also possible that bullying can be accidental. Some students may not even realize that what they are doing is hurtful. The impersonal nature of text messages, instant messages, and other online communication tools can make it difficult to understand a person’s intentions. What may be seen as joking to someone offline may be construed as bullying over the internet.
Signs and Symptoms of Cyberbullying
Regardless of the reason why it happens, there can be lasting consequences including:
- Decreased self-esteem and mental health
- Shifts in mood/emotion
- Emotional outbursts
- Headache or stomach ache
- Trouble sleeping
- Depression and/or anxiety
- Fear of going to school
- Academic struggles
- Suicidal thoughts
- Dismissal from sports teams or school suspension (for the bully)
- Legal trouble
- Damaged reputation
- Difficulty getting into college or getting a job
These symptoms are the same, regardless if a friend or a stranger is a bully.
What can I do About Cyberbullying?
This is not something that will go away on its own. Fortunately, there are steps that students, parents and family members, educators, and other members of the community can do to help combat this problem. The best place to start is with the “Four R’s:”
- Research: Do your research to learn more. Some people still struggle to see the harm that it can cause, and therefore dismiss the problem to seek out “more serious” ones. In addition, learn about the warning signs in young people, in order to know how to identify cyberbullying when it happens.
- Relationship: Support from an adult that is trusted can be incredibly beneficial in a bullying situation. Many students do not report it, due to fear of an adult’s reaction. Students need to have adults in their lives that they can trust with difficult situations. Maintaining open and honest lines of communication will make a teen more comfortable and more likely to speak up if they are experiencing online bullying.
- Responsibility: Teach teens how to be responsible when spending time on social media platforms, web pages, cellphones, and other online activities. Private information like passwords, physical addresses, and phone numbers should never be shared with strangers online. Just as they need to know about etiquette and citizenship when interacting with someone in real life, students also need to learn and understand the importance of digital etiquette and citizenship. The better a teenager can understand what an appropriate use of technology looks like, the safer the internet will be for them.
- Report: Cyberbullying can only get worse if no one speaks up. Where students have a responsibility to tell a trusted adult, adults also have a responsibility to tell someone who can help stop the problem. Often, schools, social media sites, and even phone carriers have policies in place to report cyberbullies. Local law enforcement can also be helpful in tracking down anonymous bullies and/or addressing any legal consequences of a situation.
The Bridge Teen Center works to combat bullying in-person and online on a daily basis. The free afterschool programs, events, and job readiness programs offered are designed to engage, connect, and empower teens to be the best version of themselves. The Bridge’s staff and volunteers are dedicated to providing a safe place for teens to develop mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In the midst of an increased online presence due to COVID-19, The Bridge has not stopped in its mission to Drive Out Bullying. The Bridge has spent the past ten years serving as a place of hope, purpose and direction for teens, and it has no plans to stop now!
For more information on cyberbullying and bullying prevention, visit: