Parent Resource: Cyber Bullying Facts and Tips

Schoolyard bullies used to operate on threats and brute force. They were the ones who stole lunch money, twisted arms behind weaker kids’ backs, and relentlessly teased or taunted other kids.   While certainly there are still many bullies who use violence and face-to-face threats, a new form of bullying has become much more prolific and can be equally damaging.

Cyber bullying is a growing trend in which people use technology to humiliate, intimidate, harass, and threaten their peers. Although cyber-bullying can certainly occur among adults—“revenge porn” websites are one example—it typically involves young people who utilize social media and mobile technology to prey upon their classmates and other youths. The consequences of bullying became all too real in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. In that case, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before taking their own lives. Many say that the pair targeted the peer groups that bullied them. Since then, educators and legislators have taken a hard, close look at the psychological impact of bullying.

With the proliferation of technology, the tools of harassment have changed. Now, instead of a whispered rumor that slowly spreads through the school, one click of the “send” button lets a rumor be seen by thousands of viewers instantly. An embarrassing photograph can quickly go viral, and it is virtually impossible to completely eradicate the image one it is released online. At one time, students were able to come home and find a safe haven from the threats and harassment at school. Now, the torment may feel relentless with emails, text messages, and instant messages coming at all hours of the day and night.

This endless barrage of harassment and the very public humiliation in social media cause intense psychological trauma for the victims of cyber bullying., a website of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, lists some of the effects cyber bullying can have on those who are subjected to online harassment and intimidation:

  • Alcohol and drug use
  • Truancy
  • Falling grades
  • Unwillingness to go to school
  • Low self esteem
  • Depression and other health problems

For some, the depression and hopelessness that cyber bullying creates leads to suicidal thoughts or attempts, or even suicide.

Cyber Bullying Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls cyber-bullying and related internet stalking and harassment “electronic aggression.”  The agency defines electronic aggression as follows:

Any type of harassment or bullying (teasing, telling lies, making fun of someone, making rude or mean comments, spreading rumors, or making threatening or aggressive comments) that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones.

CDC statistics indicate that between 2000 and 2005, cyber bullying among children and teens aged 10-17 increased by 50 percent. Among those who report that they have been the victims of internet bullying, more than half (67 percent) reported that the primary method of harassment was instant messaging.

The Megan Meier Foundation was created after 14-year-old Megan committed suicide after being the victim of cyber bullying initiated by a former friend with help from the girl’s mother. The organization cites the 2013 National Crime Victimization Survey as finding that 9 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported being victims of cyber bullying. Only about a quarter of those who experience cyber bullying report the harassment to an adult.

Virtually every teen who uses social media (95 percent) has witnessed bullying behaviors such as ridicule, threats, insults, and more (

These young people are at increased risk for sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression, and they are more than twice as likely as their peers to develop related health problems including headache and stomachache.

Cyber Bullying Laws

As in the case of many emerging trends, legislation is slow to catch up. In many states, there are no specific criminal statutes against cyber bullying. In these states, even though the laws do not identify cyber bullying by name, the acts which comprise electronic aggression may be prohibited under existing stalking and harassment laws. Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message

Virginia, for example, defines bullying—including cyber bullying—as “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.01). While bullying itself is not a crime, several aspects of bullying may be, including threats, extortion, and assault.

Other states have enacted legislation that criminalizes cyber bullying itself. In Maryland, Grace’s Law makes it a misdemeanor to use a computer or smartphone to bully anyone under the age of 18. Conviction carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $500 fine. Grace’s Law is named for Grace McComas, a 15-year-old Howard County high school student who committed suicide after enduring relentless harassment over social media.

Help for Parents

Most school districts have bullying and cyber bullying policies in place. However, much of the internet harassment students will endure occurs off school grounds and after school hours on cell phones, tablets, and computers. For this reason, it is important that parents are vigilant—not only to protect their children from bullies, but to be sure their own children are not engaging in internet bullying., a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, offers parents the following tips to help protect their children from electronic aggression:

  • Teach children and teens not to respond to messages, texts, emails, or comments that contain rude, sexually explicit, or harassing content.
  • Document cyber bullying by taking screen shots, saving emails and text messages, and recording the time and date each instance occurs.
  • If a fake profile is set up in your child’s name, report the fake profile to the social media network.
  • If a web page is created to harass, hurt, or intimidate your child, contact the website administrator or ISP to have the web page removed.
  • Handle cyber bullying over social media by blocking the bullies, deleting the old profile, and creating a new one with stricter privacy settings.
  • Handle cyber bullying over cell phones and text messaging by blocking numbers from which harassing messages are coming or changing the phone number.

Remember, cyber bullying is not strictly relegated to older teens. Elementary school children are also reporting harassment over cell phones and computers. Any child with access to the internet or a cell phone can become a victim of cyber bullying. Keep the lines of communication open with your child, and be aware of your child’s online activities.

If you suspect your child is a victim of cyber bullying, there are a number of organizations available to help you, including, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the National Crime Prevention Council.