At a glance
Online bullying happens for the same reasons as in-person bullying.
Kids with learning and thinking differences are at higher risk of being bullied.
Many kids don’t tell their parents about being bullied online.
Online bullying is a widespread problem that can happen to anyone. But kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be targets, just like they are with in-person bullying.
There are a few reasons for this. Kids with learning and thinking differences may have trouble with social skills and making friends. They may also have low self-esteem. Other kids may see them as “different.”
Many kids stay silent about online bullying. They may not know what counts as cyberbullying or how to deal with it when it happens. Kids might also feel that any attention from their peers — even if it’s negative — is better than none. And they don’t want adults to take their devices (or social media accounts) away.
Signs of cyberbullying
Your child may not tell you about being cyberbullied. Here are some things to watch out for:
- Your child suddenly stops using their devices for fun things, like playing their favorite game.
- Your child hides their devices from view and avoids using devices around you.
- Your child quickly turns off or changes the screen on their device whenever you’re around.
- Your child seems nervous or jumpy when a text, email, or notification pops up. They may become withdrawn.
- Your child mentions things like “There’s a lot of drama at school” or “I have no friends.”
- Your child doesn’t want to go to school or seems uneasy about going.
How you can help
Ongoing cyberbullying is serious and can harm kids’ mental health. It can put them at risk for anxiety and depression and make it hard to focus at school. If you suspect your child is being bullied online, don’t wait to act.
Have a talk: Start the conversation by sharing a childhood bullying incident. Or bring up a recent news story about cyberbullying. Ask your child if they’ve experienced online bullying. Explain that this can include things like someone spreading rumors or creating fake profiles.
If they resist, persist: If your child won’t talk about it, or seems to hold back information, don’t let it drop. Calmly say that it’s part of a parent’s job to keep their kids safe.
Explain that you’d like to check their devices. You’ll want to look at the browsing history and anything they deleted. Older kids may be resistant to this. Let them know you can look together, and that you’re only looking out for hurtful content.
Step in and stop it: If you find out your child is a target of online bullying, you can do a few things to stop it. Have your child let the bullies know that adults are aware of the situation: “My parents bought this phone for me, and they can see everything.”
If that doesn’t work and the bullying is intense and frequent, you may need to take one or all of these three steps:
- Talk to the parents of the kids who are bullying your child. Let them know what’s happening and its effect on your child.
- Reach out to your child’s school counselor or principal. Every school should have anti-cyberbullying policies and procedures to help.
- If neither of those strategies works, you may need to get law enforcement involved. Print out or save evidence of the bullying in case you need to show it to the police.
Being cyberbullied puts kids at risk for anxiety, depression, and trouble focusing at school.
Kids may not tell you they’re being bullied online, especially if they worry that you’ll take their devices away.
You may need to involve other parents, the school, and possibly law enforcement.
About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.