How to Recognize Teen Cyberbullying

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.

What is Teen Cyberbullying? 

Teen bullying is when a bully uses superior strength or social influence to intimidate a perceived weaker person. Teenage cyberbullying reflects the normal 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 that causes embarrassment or humiliation. For example, this might be an awkward picture 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. Such bullying also takes place via instant messaging apps or SMS (Short Message Service) texting, commonly known as text messages. Moreover, parents are often unaware that cyberbullying is taking place.

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.

Beyond the criminal nature of cyberbullying, online harassment does significant psychological and emotional damage.

Newport Academy Resources Restoring Families: Teen Cyberbullying

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 Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
  • 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.

Thus, cyberbullying is a challenge because technology moves so fast. Indeed, teens adopt new technologies faster than ever before.

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 hurt their reputation
  • 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.

Newport Academy Resources Restoring Families: Teen Cyberbullying

Teenage Cyberbullying Statistics

Online teen bullying is on the rise. Here are some important cyberbullying statistics.

  1. A 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, titled the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, posits that close to 15 percent of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey.
  2. Only 40–50 percent of cyberbullying targets are aware of the identity of the perpetrator.
  3. Over 80 percent of teenagers use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for teenage cyberbullying.
  4. 81 percent of teenagers think bullying online is easier to get away with than in person.

Prevention of Cyberbullying

Adults can help prevent cyberbullying by talking to teenagers about bullying. Here are some cyberbullying prevention strategies.

  • Teens should never share their passwords, private photos, or personal data (such as address or phone number) online.
  • Teens need to think before they post. Thus, teens should understand that if they’re upset or angry, they need to pause and wait to post or respond. By taking time to cool down, a teenager can avoid doing something they can’t take back.
  • Teens should never publicly reveal anything that they wouldn’t be comfortable with everyone knowing. Let a teenager know that when they share something online, it might be shared with anyone, including parents and teachers.
  • When making comments about someone else, a teen should imagine how they would feel if someone said that about them. Being clever or funny is never an excuse for being mean and hurtful to another person.

In addition, teenagers also can take positive action when they witness cyberbullying and social media harassment taking place.

Positive Responses to Social Media Harassment

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 on what to do if this happens. Consequently, such coaching can help a teenager take the right steps to help prevent future cyberbullying.

Positive responses and proactive steps to take include the following:

  • First and foremost, teens should not participate in bullying by liking a nasty comment or sharing inappropriate posts. Negative peer pressure online is a problem.
  • Teens can let adults know what is happening. Such feedback is not “tattling,” but rather preventing damage and distress.
  • Teens should report the harassment to the social media site on which it occurs. Given the growing awareness around teen cyberbullying, most platforms have reporting mechanisms.
  • Teens can reach out in a private message to the person being bullied. A simple expression of support can go a long way toward helping a young person in crisis.

Beyond positive responses, teens and parents can refer to online apps designed to raise awareness about harassment on social media.

Newport Academy Resources Restoring Families: Teen Cyberbullying

The Free KnowBullying App from SAMHSA 

The federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a free smartphone app to help prevent bullying. KnowBullying was developed based on research that shows how parents and caregivers can help stop bullying.

KnowBullying has simple conversation starters to begin a discussion about teens and bullying. By speaking with their teenager for several minutes each day, parents can build a foundation of communication that helps prevent cyberbullying and social media harassment.

Some of the features of the free KnowBullying app are

  • Conversation starters to open the door for meaningful discussions
  • Strategies to prevent teen bullying and cyberbullying
  • Social media links for sharing and accessing successful strategies and useful advice via Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messages
  • A list of teen bullying warning signs for parents.

In summary, parents and teens can work together to raise awareness and share strategies to help prevent and resolve cyberbullying. Being a teenager is tough enough without the added pressure of teen cyberbullying and harassment.

Images courtesy of unsplash


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration