How to tell if your child is being bullied online

By Kate Kelly

At a glance

  • Online bullying can be just as damaging as physical bullying.

  • Kids with learning and thinking differences can be at higher risk for being bullied online.

  • They may not tell you if they’re being cyberbullied, but there are signs you can watch out for.

You’ve probably heard about online bullying (also called cyberbullying) on the news. And maybe you’re concerned it could happen to your child.

Kids with learning and thinking differences are at higher risk than other kids. And it’s for the same reasons they may be bullied more often in the classroom or on the playground. They may be targeted because they have poor social skills and find it difficult to make friends. They may suffer from low self-esteem or be seen as “different.”

Kids may not tell you if they’re being bullied online. Learn how to recognize the signs and find out what you can do if your child is dealing with cyberbullying.

Why kids don’t tell their parents

Unfortunately, many kids don’t tell their parents they’re being cyberbullied. They may not know exactly what counts as bullying online. Make sure they understand that if someone spreads rumors about them online, posts fake profiles of them, or sends mean texts or emails, that’s bullying.

Even if kids do realize they’re being bullied, they may not be sure how to handle the situation. Rather than speak up, they may just stay silent while they try to figure it out. They may be worried that if they complain, the bullying will get worse. Or they may feel that some attention from kids — even if it’s negative — is better than none.

Kids may also be afraid of losing online privileges. They might be nervous that their parents will address the problem by taking away their cell phones and computers.

How to recognize the signs of online bullying

Since your child may not tell you about it, it’s important for you to be aware of possible signs of online bullying. Your child could be a victim of cyberbullying if:

  • Your child suddenly stops using the computer, even though your child has always enjoyed it before.
  • Your child doesn’t want to use the computer in a place where you can see it.
  • Your child turns off the computer monitor, or changes screens every time you walk by.
  • Your child seems nervous or jumpy when an instant message, text, or email arrives.
  • Your child alludes to bullying indirectly by saying something like “there’s a lot of drama at school” or “I have no friends.”
  • Your child doesn’t want to go to school or appears uneasy about going.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn.

How you can help

If it doesn’t stop, cyberbullying can put your child at risk for anxiety and depression. It can also make it difficult for your child to concentrate at school. But there are steps you can take if you think your child may be the target of online bullying.

Start by talking to your child. You can open the conversation by describing a bullying incident that happened to you as a child or an example of cyberbullying that you heard about on the news.

If they’re not forthcoming, calmly say that you’re going to exercise your right to be the administrator of their computer and phone. You need to be able to see the browsing history and what has been deleted.

If you confirm that your child is being bullied, there are things you can do to put a stop to it. Suggest that your child let the bullies know you have access to their electronics: “I know this sounds crazy, but my parents are the administrators of this computer so they can see everything. I can’t control what they do.”

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 going on and its effect on your child.
  • Reach out to your child’s guidance counselor or principal. Every school should have anti-cyberbullying policies and protocols 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.

If your child experiences anxiety, loneliness, and other issues because of bullying, consider seeking professional help. There are many options for emotional help for your child. You don’t have to do it alone.

Key takeaways

  • Being the victim of a cyberbully puts kids at risk for anxiety, depression, and an inability to concentrate at school.

  • Kids may want to handle the problem themself, especially if they think you’ll take away electronic devices if you find out.

  • If your child’s being bullied online, you may need to involve other parents, the school, and possibly law enforcement to put a stop to it.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.