How to tell if your child is being bullied online

By Kate Kelly

How to tell if your child is being bullied online, child on an ipad

At a glance

  • Online bullying happens for the same reasons as in-person bullying does.

  • 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 all kids. 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 poor social skills and find it difficult to make friends. They may suffer from low self-esteem and be seen as “different.”

Many kids don’t tell their parents they’re being bullied online. They may not know what counts as cyberbullying or how to handle it when it happens. Kids might also feel that any attention from their peers — even if it’s negative — is better than none. Another reason for not telling is fear of having their devices taken away. 

Since your child may not tell you about being cyberbullied, it’s important for you to be aware of possible signs. Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Your child suddenly stops using the computer for fun.
  • 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 a text, email, or notification pops up.
  • 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 seems uneasy about going.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn.

How you can help

Ongoing cyberbullying is serious. It can put kids at risk for anxiety and depression. It can also make it hard for kids to concentrate at school. If you suspect your child is being bullied online, don’t wait to act. 

First, talk with 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. Ask directly if your child has been the target of online bullying, which can include spreading rumors and posting fake profiles.

If your child won’t talk about it, or seems to be holding back information, don’t let it drop. Calmly say that you’re going to exercise your right to be the manager of your child’s computer and phone. You need to be able to see the browsing history and what’s been deleted.

If you confirm that your child is being bullied, there are things you can do to stop it. Suggest that your child let the bullies know you can see what’s going on: “I know this sounds weird, but my parents are the managers 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 happening and its effect on your child.
  • Reach out to your child’s guidance 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.

Key takeaways

  • Being the victim of a cyberbully puts kids at risk for anxiety, depression, and trouble concentrating at school.

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

  • If your child is 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.