Cyberbullying is the repeated and willful use of digital technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. Cyberbullies use cell phones, computers and tablets. They use email, text messaging, social media, apps, forums and gaming in their efforts to humiliate their peers and others.

With today’s mandatory need for smartphones and 24-7 access to social media platforms, anyone can be a perpetual target. But because teens and young adults access these digital platforms so often, they are the most vulnerable. Staying “connected” online with friends is not always as innocent as it appears.

Here a few things to consider about cyberbullying:

  • Cyberbullying is easier to commit than traditional acts of bullying because the perpetrator doesn’t have to confront the victim in person. It can also be perpetrated anonymously, so victims often don’t know who is targeting them.
  • Perpetrators get to operate outside the view of adults making it harder for parents to recognize and address it, if and when their kids are being victimized.
  • For victims themselves, it can feel like there’s no escape. While the school day typically ends in mid-afternoon, the Internet never closes down. That means the online abuse is often unrelenting, continuous, and may go on for days, weeks or even months.
  • Cyberbullying has the potential to reach large audiences and cause more damage to its victims, especially if it goes viral.

The numerous psychological effects can be devastating to victims regardless of age, and it seems no one is immune to the kind of trauma it causes. However, because kids and teens are still learning to regulate their emotions and responses to social interactions, they are particularly vulnerable and highly susceptible.

Cyberbullying can cause debilitating fear, destruction of self-esteem, social isolation, poor academic performance. It can also lead to difficulty in forming healthy relationships and most importantly, victims can develop severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

Young victims are nearly twice as likely to consider suicide than their peers. Many young victims inflict self-harm such as cutting, head banging and even hitting themselves. They are also significantly more inclined to turn to substance abuse for relief of their psychological pain.

Incidence of cyberbullying among teens nearly doubled between 2007 and 2016. A 2018 study found that 59% of U.S. teens reported having been bullied or harassed online. That’s a staggering number.

Research shows that the most common reason for cyberbullying is the result of fractured personal relationships, due to breakups or unresolved conflicts. Certain groups are especially vulnerable and frequently targeted. They include LGBTQ students, shy and socially awkward students, overweight kids and kids that come from low income families.

The online abuse takes the form of name-calling, spreading false rumors, forwarding sexually explicit images and messages, cyberstalking, physical threats, and the unauthorized sharing of personal images and information without consent.

Instagram is the most widely used platform among teens so its where a lot of cyberbullying occurs these days. Facebook and Snapchat are a close second and third.

Here are some signs to look for that may indicate your teen is a victim.

For example, extreme mood swings, angry outbursts, irritability, spending more time alone than usual, avoiding friends they used to hang out with as well as repeated texts or calls from numbers you don’t recognize.

If you suspect your child is a victim of cyberbullying take action. Talk to your child even if it feels awkward. Approach the conversation gently, allowing your child to explain the situation in his or her own words. Assure your child that their value as a person has nothing to do with being teased or harassed. Let them know that retaliation or even responding to a bully online can only make the situation worse.

Encourage them to document every incident by saving and taking screen shots of unkind texts, emails, photos and other unwelcome images. Saving the URL’s of where the negative messages came from is also helpful. Or suggest that your child forward them directly to you.

Report cases of cyberbullying or even suspicion of cyberbullying to teachers and administrators at your child’s school. In extreme cases, inform law enforcement officials and keep records of any and all conversations. Most of all assure your child that bullying in any form is hurtful and wrong, and that they are never to blame for the immature and cruel behavior of their peers.

Remember, the sooner cyberbullying is identified and addressed the better your chances are of protecting your child from the potentially devastating negative effects.

Links to Cyberbullying hotlines and support centers.

The CyberBullyHotline1-800-VictimsStopBullying.govStomp Out BullyingTeen Health & Wellness