Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know

By Common Sense Media, Understood Founding Partner

At a Glance

  • Cyberbullying means using online technology to hurt someone on purpose.

  • Kids with learning and thinking differences are more likely to be cyberbullied than their peers.

  • There are lots of things you can do to help prevent your child from being cyberbullied.

Before the Internet, bullying mostly happened in person. Kids were bullied at the bus stop, at recess or in the lunch line. But once a child got home, the bullying stopped. Now with technology, online bullying, or cyberbullying, can happen anywhere at any time.

It’s scary to think that your child can be threatened, picked on and intimidated nonstop. But with social media, bullies can hurt other kids during school or all hours of the night.

Here’s what you need to know about cyberbullying and how to protect your child.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is when kids use online technology to hurt other kids. In other words, they use the Internet to harass and embarrass people. It’s done on purpose and is usually ongoing.

Today, kids use social media, texting and email to talk to their friends. This means cyberbullying can happen easily. Cruel messages or unflattering photos can be sent to everyone in the school with just one click. And kids can keep sending mean messages from home, on the weekends or even during holidays.

Sometimes, cyberbullying is a single child sending a cruel text. But it can also be a group of kids posting hurtful things about someone to other kids. And then those kids forward the messages to even more people. This short video shows one example of cyberbullying.

Here are more examples of behavior that could be cyberbullying:

  • Sending mean emails, texts or instant messages.

  • Sending neutral messages to someone to the point of harassment.

  • Posting hurtful things about someone on social media.

  • Spreading rumors or gossip about someone online.

  • Making fun of someone in an online chat that includes multiple people.

  • Attacking or killing an avatar or character in an online game, constantly and on purpose.

  • Pretending to be another person by creating a fake online profile.

  • Threatening or intimidating someone online or in a text message.

  • Taking an embarrassing photo or video and sharing it without permission.

It’s important to know that not all online conflicts between kids are cyberbullying. Sometimes, kids get into arguments on social media. They may also banter with each other or use inside jokes while texting. (Read about the difference between teasing and bullying.)

But there’s a way to determine if a behavior falls under cyberbullying. If a kid is sending hurtful messages on purpose and on a regular basis, then it’s cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying and Kids With Learning and Thinking Differences

All kids can be cyberbullied. However, kids with learning and thinking differences face special risks because of their challenges. This means they are more likely to be cyberbullied than their peers.

For instance, kids who get school services or accommodations may be targeted because they seem different. They may be singled out because of their academic or social challenges.

Online messaging can be tricky for kids with learning and thinking differences. Most online communication relies on text, so kids with reading and writing issues may struggle with this.

Kids with social skills issues may misinterpret emails or texts. They may not understand the context of a post on social media. And for kids with impulsivity issues and ADHD, they may respond badly to a message without thinking it through.

But it’s important to know that kids with learning and thinking differences are not only at risk as victims. They are also at risk for cyberbullying other kids.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying

The best way to prevent cyberbullying is to prepare your child to interact in an online world.

Here are some things you can do:

  • Talk with your child about what cyberbullying is.

  • Discuss with her what to do if she experiences cyberbullying.

  • Practice real-world social skills with your child, which can help her online.

  • Keep lines of communication open with your child.

  • Teach your child respect and empathy for others online.

  • Understand what devices, apps and technology your child is using.

  • Keep technology out of your child’s bedroom where it can be used without supervision.

  • Use a cell phone contract to help manage your child’s technology use.

For more resources and information on cyberbullying, visit Common Sense Media. You can also learn what to do if you suspect your child is being cyberbullied. Read about how you can keep an eye on your child’s online activities without spying. And get tips on how to make your child’s school a bully-free zone.

Key Takeaways

  • Online behavior that is hurtful and done on purpose is cyberbullying.

  • Kids with learning and thinking differences are more likely to be cyberbullied than their peers.

  • You can help prevent cyberbullying before it happens.

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