With the vast majority of teens spending hours upon hours of time online, teen cyberbullying has become rampant. While remote schooling may be protecting victims from in-person bullying, it doesn’t keep them from experiencing online harassment.
Social media and other online forums provide ways for teens to bully peers without real-life repercussions. Less online supervision and increased stress during the pandemic are also contributing to higher rates of cyberbullying.
Even without a physical component, cyberbullying has a significant negative impact on teens. It causes distress and can exacerbate symptoms of teen anxiety, teen depression, and teen isolation. Moreover, cyberbullying has led to several highly publicized teen suicides. These are critical concerns during a time when an unprecedented number of adolescents are struggling with their mental health.
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 Snapchat, TikTok cyberbullying is becoming common. Moreover, it’s difficult for adults to report cyberbullying when they are often unaware that it’s taking place. Thus, the best approach is to talk to teens about what they’re experiencing. By having ongoing open communication, asking questions, and listening closely, parents and mentors of teens 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 a teen’s personal or private information, 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.
Cyberbullying takes place on digital devices, such as cellphones and computers, via online interactions like social media and gaming. With the rise of image-oriented apps like Instagram and Snapchat, visual bullying is quite common. TikTok cyberbullying typically takes the form of sharing a humiliating video about someone, or making mean comments on other users’ videos. Bullying also takes place via instant messaging apps or 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. One study found that teen cyberbullying victims under age 25 are more than twice as likely to engage in self-harming or suicidal behavior.
Teen Cyberbullying Statistics During COVID
A new report on online bullying in the age of COVID-19 found that 81 percent of cyberbullying organizations have seen an increase in this behavior during 2020. In addition, the report found that the prevalence of cyberbullying increased from 36.5 in 2019 to 62 percent in 2020. Meanwhile, the number of perpetrators went up from 14.8 to 25.2 percent during that time frame.
Another study, from the AI startup L1GHT, analyzed online data from websites, social platforms, chatting forums, and gaming sites. Consequently, the report documented a 70 percent increase in cyberbullying among kids and teens during online chats and a 40 percent increase in toxic interactions on popular video gaming platforms, such as Discord.
More parents are seeking help for teen cyberbullying as well. According to Google Trends, 80 percent more parents have been searching for information on cyberbullying since the pandemic began.
Here are some other important cyberbullying statistics:
- 81 percent of teenagers think bullying online is easier to get away with than in person.
- 70 percent of middle and high school students say someone has spread rumors about them online.
- Two-thirds of students who experienced cyberbullying say that it “really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.”
- 66 percent of female victims have feelings of powerlessness because of cyberbullying.
- 68% of young people who are harassed online experience mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as a result.
Given these teen cyberbullying statistics, steps to end cyberbullying remain a priority.
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
- 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 teens shifting to new technologies faster than ever. To combat this, some platforms have developed stricter policies and reporting platforms. For example, Instagram has a page with specific guidelines where people can report Instagram frauds. And Snapchat has developed a Snapchat Safety Center that makes reporting any abuses on the platform faster and easier. There is also a TikTok Safety Center.
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.
Beyond cyberbullying on social media platforms, cyberbullying is also prevalent in multiplayer online gaming. Parents often wonder why cyberbullying is so common in this arena—and it’s for the same reason why cyberbullying happens in general: anonymity.
Since there is a sense that anything is permitted, the worst in teens come out in multiplayer gaming. According to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), teens attribute the increasing cases of bullying in gaming to anonymity (86 percent), ignorance of real-life repercussions (76 percent), and no fear of punishment (73 percent).
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. Trying to be 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 TikTok safety features.
More positive responses and proactive steps:
- Foremost, teens should not participate in cyberbullying by sharing videos that humiliate others, liking a nasty comment, or making inappropriate posts.
- Teens who are experience TikTok cyberullying or another form of online bullying 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.
J Med Internet Res. 2018 Apr;20(4):e129.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
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