Cyberbullying Surpasses Bullying as Most Common Type of Harassment

An Inside Look at Cyberbullying from a Teen's Perspective

Cyberbullying is a growing problem that impacts kids all over the world. And, for the first time in years, cyberbullying has surpassed bullying as the most common type of harassment that middle school and high school students experience.

In fact, 59% of U.S. teens indicated that they have been cyberbullied or harassed online according to a report by the Pew Research Center. And, most teens, a full 90% in fact, say it is a major problem for kids their age.

Types of Cyberbullying

The most common type of harassment that teens experience online is name-calling, with 42% of teens indicating that they have been called offensive names online. What's more, about a third of teens indicate that someone has spread rumors or gossip about them online.

Another way teens are being harassed online is by being sent explicit messages or pictures, which is also known as sexting. Seven percent of teens say that someone has shared explicit photos with them without their consent.

In comparison to other types of online harassment, sexting occurs relatively infrequently, but it is a huge concern for parents. Fifty-seven percent of parents say they are worried about their children sending or receiving sexually explicit images.

Meanwhile, 21% of teens have been badgered by others asking where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. For many, this type of demanding behavior is the first warning sign of dating abuse and should not be taken lightly.

Influencing Factors

Demographics seem to influence which teens tend to be targets of cyberbullying and what kind of online bullying a person experiences. Gender, socioeconomics, and how "online" a teen is all contribute to whether and how a person may be targeted.


Although teens of any gender are equally likely to experience cyberbullying, there are some differences in the types of online harassment that they encounter, with 60% of girls and 59% of boys experiencing at least one type of online bullying such as name-calling, spreading rumors, receiving explicit messages, badgering about where they are, and receiving physical threats.

For instance, 39% of girls say that someone has spread rumors or gossip about them online, compared to only 26% of boys. Girls also are more likely to receive explicit images that they did not ask for than boys are.


Physical threats tops the list for poorer families. In fact, 24% of teens with household incomes less than $30,000 have been a target of physical threats online, compared to just 12% of teens in households making $75,000 or more.

Income also contributes to the frequency of online bullying. Teens from lower income families are more likely than those from higher income families to experience certain types of online bullying.

Presence Online

The likelihood of experiencing cyberbullying also is linked to how often the teen goes online. For instance, as many as 45% of teens indicate that they are online almost all the time. And for these teens, they are more likely to be harassed and cyberbullied. In fact, nearly 70% of teens who say they are online almost all the time have experienced some form of cyberbullying, compared with 53% of teens who use the Internet several times a day.

Where It Occurs

According to a British anti-bullying organization, Ditch the Label, most of the cyberbullying that kids experience is occurring on Instagram.

Forty-two percent of the people surveyed report being bullied on Instagram compared to 37% on Facebook and 31% on SnapChat.

Of the types of bullying they experienced, 24% said their private information was shared online. Meanwhile, 27% had photos and videos shared against their will and 18% had their profile wrongfully reported.

Adult Intervention

With all of this harassment occurring online, teens are extremely disappointed in how the adults in their lives are handling the cyberbullying. To the majority of teens, the only adults in their lives that are adequately addressing online bullying are their parents, according to the research conducted by Pew. In fact, 59% of teens feel parents are doing a decent job addressing the issue.

Teens are very disappointed in how teachers, politicians, social media companies, and bystanders respond to cyberbullying.

According to the research, 79% of teens feel politicians are doing a poor job of addressing the issue while 66% are disappointed in bystanders and 58% feel teachers fail to adequately address cyberbullying.

Clearly, things need to change in order to address the issues surrounding cyberbullying, especially since it is occurring more frequently than other types of bullying.

Tips for Addressing Cyberbullying

What can parents and other adults do to help children experiencing cyberbullying—or even prevent the bullying from occurring?

Recognize That It Happens Frequently

One of the first steps in addressing cyberbullying is recognizing that it is not a random thing. Every day kids are being tormented online by cyberbullies. Their pictures are being shared, rumors are being spread and they are being called names—all in large numbers.

While adults may not always witness cyberbullying, they need to recognize that it is still happening.

Establish School Guidelines

Many times, teachers and administrators believe that because cyberbullying often occurs after school hours, it is outside their area of responsibility. But the fact is, cyberbullying almost always infiltrates the school hallways as students whisper and talk about what they saw online. As a result, the distractions caused by cyberbullying often impacts the educational environment.

Consequently, it is in the school's best interest to not only have strong anti-cyberbullying policies but also to implement consequences for students who participate in cyberbullying.

Empower Bystanders

Many times, people who witness online bullying have no idea what to do or how to respond, but there are a number of things they can do if they are empowered.

First, they can avoid commenting, liking, or reposting anything that hurts another person. Second, if they feel confident enough, they could even make a comment on a post that discourages people from continuing the harassment.

Bystanders also can help by reporting what they are seeing not only to the social media provider but also to a trusted adult.

Lobby for Stronger Social Media Guidelines

As of right now, there is very little governance over social media sites. Most see them as an arm of the First Amendment. But is hate speech, threatening words, and other types of harassment really part of free speech?

Write to your local politicians and share your concerns about the growing issue of cyberbullying.

Urge them to adopt stronger laws in your state that protect victims of cyberbullying while serving to deter those that engage in the practice.

Support Victims of Cyberbullying

The consequences of cyberbullying are significant. For this reason, it is extremely important that parents and educators support anyone targeted by cyberbullies and teach them how to respond. Ignoring cyberbullying or diminishing its impact only heightens the victim's emotional response.

Consequently, it is extremely important for victims of cyberbullying to know that not everyone is believing the lies posted online and more importantly, that they are not alone.

Implement Programs That Change the School Climate

Often, cyberbullying and bullying escalate because they receive an audience at school or provides the bully with some other type of benefit. The key, then, is changing the way cyberbullying is perceived at school.

If students feel that cyberbullying is cruel and unacceptable and this idea catches on in social circles, the amount of cyberbullying experienced at a particular school will decrease dramatically.

The goal should be to change the climate at the school so that cyberbullying is no longer an acceptable practice and kids that do engage in it do not receive the results they were hoping for. 

Foster Open Communication

Because teens often feel like teachers and administrators are turning a blind eye to cyberbullying, it is important to change this perception. One way to do that is to encourage students to talk openly about what they are seeing and experiencing online and in the school hallways.

When students feel like they are being heard, they are more likely to report what they are witnessing, and when they do so teachers are better equipped to address cyberbullying before it gets out of hand.

One way this can be accomplished is by holding focus groups that encourage students to share what they are seeing and to brainstorm on how to change the environment in school and online.

Build Partnerships Between Parents and Schools

According to the research, a large percentage of teens feel like their parents are adequately addressing cyberbullying. As a result, it is important for schools to incorporate these parents into their bullying prevention efforts. Parents bring an important element to the table and should never be marginalized or diminished for the role they can play in bullying prevention.

Too many times school administrators and teachers want to keep parents and other community members at arm's length, but doing so weakens their efforts. When schools have parental buy-in, they are going to be more successful. 

A Word From Verywell

Cyberbullying is a growing problem that is not likely to go away anytime soon. Consequently, teens need to be educated to become competent digital citizens.

Too often, it is easy for teens to hide behind a computer screen and say hurtful things. Feeling anonymous or insulated by the computer often leads them to do and say things they would never dream of doing in person.

For this reason, it is important that parents and teachers teach kids proper digital etiquette. Only then will the name-calling and rumor-spreading end.


3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Anderson M. A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying. Pew Research Center.

  2. Ditch the Label. Annual Bullying Survey.

  3. Kowalski RM, Limber SP. Psychological, Physical, and Academic Correlates of Cyberbullying and Traditional BullyingJ Adolesc Health. 2013;53(1 Suppl):S13-20. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.09.018

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.