Teen cyberbullying coincides with the technological advancements of the 21st century. Social media and other online forums provide ways for teens to bully peers without face-to-face repercussions.
While such bullying does not include a physical component, it nevertheless has a significant negative impact on teen mental health. Cyberbullying causes distress and can exacerbate symptoms of teen anxiety, teen depression, and teen isolation. Moreover, cyberbullying has led to several highly publicized teen suicides.
A challenge for parents and educators is how quickly change happens in this arena. While parents are worrying about teens being bullied on Facebook or Twitter, teens are focusing on Instagram and Snapchat in 2020—yet new apps targeting teens may become popular at any time. Moreover, it’s difficult for parents to report cyberbullying when they are often unaware that it is taking place. Thus, the best approach is to talk to your teenager. By having a consistent open conversation, asking questions and listening closely, you may uncover valuable information.
What is Teen Cyberbullying?
Teenage bullying is when a bully uses superior strength or social influence to intimidate a perceived weaker person. Teenage cyberbullying reflects the patterns of teenage bullying. But in this case, a teen sends or posts harmful or false content about a peer online. Furthermore, cyberbullying often includes sharing the personal or private information of a teen, with the goal of causing embarrassment or humiliation. For example, a cyberbully might share an awkward picture of another teen, or a post taken out of context. With the rise of image-oriented apps like Instagram and Snapchat, visual bullying is quite common.
Cyberbullying takes place on digital devices, such as cellphones and computers, via online interactions like social media and gaming. Social media cyberbullying is most prevalent on Instagram (42 percent), followed by Facebook (37 percent) and Snapchat (31 percent). Such bullying also takes place via instant messaging apps or SMS (Short Message Service) texting, commonly known as text messages.
The content a person shares or has on their personal phone or computer is considered their intellectual property. Therefore, posting or sharing such content without that person’s permission is illegal. In fact, some state and federal statutes categorize it as a criminal violation. If they want to stop cyberbullying, parents cannot ignore such violations. Instead, the goal is to report cyberbullying and increase awareness. Taking into account how many people get cyberbullied, teen advocates and educators are working to spread awareness and end cyberbullying.
Beyond the criminal nature of cyberbullying, online harassment does significant psychological and emotional damage.
Where Does Teen Cyberbullying Happen?
Cyberbullying among teens is harder for adults to detect. Unlike face-to-face teenage bullying, cyberbullying creates a sense of distance—in both time and space—between bullies and their victims. This gap gives bullies the illusion of anonymity, and thus increases a tendency toward even harsher bullying.
Places where cyberbullying occurs among teens include the following:
- Social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YOLO (a question-and-answer app that teen cyberbullies use to shame and embarrass vulnerable adolescents, by asking hurtful questions about them
- Text messaging on cell phones and other devices, including both one-on-one messages and group messaging
- Gaming forums or during online video game playing, where teens play gaming characters in multiplayer formats
- Instant messages delivered via social media messaging features, smartphone apps, and other messaging services
- Anonymous messaging apps and sites like Kik, Sarahah, and Askfm, which allow for messages and feedback without identifying the source
- Temporary messaging and picture apps like Telegram and Snapchat
- Emails, although this is less common since teens now see email as being somewhat old-fashioned.
As noted, there are several various platforms in which cyberbullying can occur with teen shifting to new technologies faster than ever. To combat this, some platforms have developed stricter policies and reporting platforms. For example, on Instagram there is a page to report Instagram frauds with specific guidelines. Further, Snapchat has developed a Snapchat Safety Center which makes reporting any abuses on the platform faster and easier.
Teen Cyberbullying Methods
There are many different types of cyberbullying. The most common teen cyberbullying tactics include
- Posting comments about a teen online that are cruel, hurtful, or embarrassing
- Posting an embarrassing picture or video of a teenager
- Starting rumors about a teen online that damage their reputation
- Ask nasty questions that are designed to hurt their feelings
- Posting hateful slurs or comments about a teen’s race, religion, or ethnicity online
- Threatening online to hurt a teen or encouraging them to do self-harm or to kill themselves
- Posing as someone else online to solicit personal or false information about a teenager, or even impersonating a teenager online
- Doxing (an abbreviated form of the word “documents”)—online harassment in which a teen’s personal information is made public, including addresses, social security numbers, credit cards, and phone numbers. This can lead to identity theft.
Teen Cyberbullying Can Create a Permanent Online Record
Teenagers do not realize that the personal content they share online creates a permanent public record of their views, activities, and behavior. Such a public record defines a person’s online reputation. Moreover, it’s difficult to delete information once it’s online.
Despite firewalls and passwords, online reputations are surprisingly accessible to employers, colleges, and others who may be researching an individual for potential jobs, admissions, etc., now or in the future. As a result, teens should be very cautious before posting any personal information online.
Teenage Cyberbullying Statistics
Online teen bullying is on the rise. In 2019, over 20,000 parents participated in a worldwide research study about high-risk online platforms. And 65 percent singled out cyberbullying on social media as their biggest fear.
Here are some important cyberbullying statistics:
- 81 percent of teenagers think bullying online is easier to get away with than in person.
- 34 percent of US kids have experienced cyberbullying at least once.
- 66 percent of female victims have feelings of powerlessness because of cyberbullying.
- 7 percent of female students experienced online abuse at least once in their lifetime.
- 42 percent of LGBT youth experience cyberbullying, with 35 percent receiving online threats.
- 37 percent of teens bullied developed social anxiety, while 36 percent showed symptoms of depression.
Given these cyberbullying statistics, steps to end cyberbullying remain a priority.
Proactive Responses to Social Media Harassment
Adults can help prevent cyberbullying by talking to teenagers about bullying. Here are some cyberbullying prevention strategies.
- To ensure safety across various social media platforms, parents should encourage their teens to never share their passwords, private photos, or personal data online. This can help prevent fake social media accounts such as Instagram frauds.
- To end cyberbullying, parents should encourage teens to think before they post. Thus, teens should understand that if they’re upset or angry, they need to pause and wait to post. Let a teenager know that when they share something, it might be shared with anyone.
- When making comments, a teen should imagine how they would feel if someone said that about them. Being funny is not an excuse for being an Instagram bully.
With cyberbullying and social media harassment, teens often become aware of what is happening long before adults. However, with care and precision, adults can coach teens effectively to navigate away from cyberbullying. Consequently, such coaching helps a teenager take steps to prevent future cyberbullying, by managing safety features across their social media platforms, such as Snapchat safety features.
More positive responses and proactive steps:
- Foremost, teens should not participate in cyberbullying by liking a nasty comment or sharing inappropriate posts. Being an Instagram bully is not acceptable.
- Teens can let adults know what is happening. Such feedback is not “tattling,” but rather preventing damage and distress.
- Teens should report harassment. As noted above, given the growing awareness around teen cyberbullying, most platforms have reporting mechanisms.
Beyond positive responses, teens and parents can refer to online apps designed to raise awareness about harassment on social media.
The threats of cyberbullying are real to the mental health of a teenager considering that 34 percent of kids in the United States have experienced cyberbullying at least once. Given the stakes, cyberbullying is a high priority for parents and educators alike.
Indeed, we no longer need to ask, “How many people get cyberbullied?” The answer is too many. Teen cyberbullying and social media harassment are real problems. Rather than avoid this reality, parents and educators can report cyberbullying and thus help to prevent needless suffering.