How to Prevent Cyberbullying

Teen distressed at computer

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

Cyberbullying is a growing social problem that has become all too common in online communities. Research indicates that one in five tweens has been cyberbullied, while 59% of teens have been harassed online. And the rate at which online bullying is occurring does not seem to be declining.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, cyberbullying escalated. During stay-at-home orders, research shows cyberbullying increased 70% and toxicity on online gaming platforms increased 40%.

These numbers illustrate that despite increased education and improved school bullying prevention programs, incidences of cyberbullying continue to escalate. So parents need to do what they can to prevent cyberbullying in their kids' lives.

Why Prevention Is Important

Cyberbullying is deliberately and repeatedly inflicting harm using electronic devices, gaming apps, and online social media platforms. It often manifests as hate accounts, hurtful social media posts, online rumors and gossip, and mean comments while gaming. The intention is almost always to embarrass, threaten, humiliate, intimidate, or abuse the intended target.

Research has shown that those who are cyberbullied suffer a number of different consequences, including struggling emotionally, physically, mentally, and academically. What's more, cyberbullying is a significant stressor in a young person's life. Cyberbullying leaves young people feeling hurt, embarrassed, and sometimes even scared.

Not only do they often blame themselves for the torment and harassment they experience, but they also are left feeling extremely stressed out. In fact, one study found that nearly 35% of those targeted by cyberbullies reported symptoms of stress.

Kids targeted by cyberbullies also may experience physical symptoms in response to the stress they are experiencing. They may complain of stomachaches, headaches, skin conditions, and other physical ailments.

Kids' sleeping and eating habits can be impacted by cyberbullying. Sometimes kids who are cyberbullied will crash diet or binge eat as either a way of coping with the cyberbullying or as an attempt to alter the way they look in hopes the cyberbullying will end.

Grades and extracurricular activities may also suffer as a result of harassment. Teens may skip school or have trouble concentrating on their studies because cyberbullying is consuming all of their time and energy.

It's also not uncommon for cyberbullying victims to feel alone and isolated. Many kids who are targeted report being ostracized at school. This experience, in turn, impacts their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Ultimately, cyberbullying can lead to self-harm and even suicidal thoughts.

When kids are regularly harassed by others through social media posts, text messages, instant messaging, and blog posts, they can start to feel hopeless. They may start to think that the only way to escape the torment is through suicide. Because the risks associated with cyberbullying are so significant, it's important that parents take steps to prevent cyberbullying in their kids' lives.

If your tween or teen is having suicidal thoughts, they can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If they are in immediate danger, call 911.

Ways to Manage Cyberbullying

While there is no foolproof way to prevent your child from ever being cyberbullied, there are things you can do together to reduce the likelihood they will be targeted. This includes implementing safety measures as well as having ongoing conversations about cyberbullying. You need to discuss what cyberbullying is, the risks associated with experiencing it, and how it can escalate.

It's also important to talk to your tweens and teens about how to use social media safely and responsibly and what they should do if they are bullied online.

Protect Accounts and Devices

When it comes to preventing cyberbullying, and similar behaviors like catfishing, it's important that your child use passwords on everything. Passwords are one of the most effective ways to protect accounts and devices.

Emphasize that your child should never share their passwords with anyone, including their best friend. Even though they may trust that friend implicitly, the reality is that friends come and go and there is no guarantee they are going to be friends forever.

Use Privacy Tools and Settings

No matter what your teen does online, make sure they are aware of the privacy settings and tools offered by the organization. Almost every social media platform including Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and TikTok have privacy settings.

Go through each account with your child and help them set their privacy settings to the most secure settings. This means making accounts private, preventing people from tagging them, requiring other people to get permission before sharing one of their photos, and so on.

Keep Personal Stuff Private

Kids should never share their address, cell phone number, or email address online. They should be careful about sharing too much information about where they go to school, especially if they have friends or followers online that they don't know really well.

Remind them that people are not always who they claim to be online. Even though the profile photo is of a teenage girl, that doesn't mean the person behind the account is actually a teenage girl. It could be someone pretending to be a young girl in order to gather information on other teens.

Manage Location Sharing

Some smartphones allow users to share their location with friends. This means that if they share their location with people, these people will always know where they are. Have a discussion with your child about who they can share their location with or if they can share it at all.

Likewise, some photos taken with smartphones already contain geotags that indicate where the photo was taken. People can use these photos to determine your child's location, even if they never mention where the photo was taken.

Your child needs to be mindful about which photos they are sharing and when. For instance, you may want them to refrain from posting vacation pictures until you have returned from vacation. This way, you are not letting the entire online world know that no one is at your home for the next two weeks.

Teach Them to Think Before Posting

Help your tweens and teens get in the habit of taking some time before posting. For instance, they could create a post offline and then come back to it in an hour and decide if they still want to post it. Doing so will keep them from posting things that they may later regret.

Cyberbullies may take what your child posted and use it against them in some way, so it might be helpful to encourage your child to take time to think before posting. Of course, if someone wants to use something against them, it won't necessarily matter what the content is.

But by taking their time to craft a post, your child will be able to think through what they are posting and determine whether or not it's something they want to say publicly. This is a good practice for kids in order to maintain a healthy relationship with social media.

You also need to teach your tween or teen how to practice digital etiquette. Using social media and other online tools is a privilege, not a right, and one that can be taken away if they are unable to use it responsibly.

Conduct a Social Media Audit

Every month or so, sit down with your tween or teen and go through their social media accounts. Together, determine what posts may need to be deleted from their account. This exercise is especially important as they prepare to apply to college or look for a new job.

Many times, college recruiters and hiring managers will look through an applicant's social media accounts to get a feel for their personality and character. Together along with your teen, be sure your teen's posts and photos are sending the message they want others to receive.

Log Out When Using Public Devices

Remind your tween or teen that when they are using public computers or laptops at school or the library, they should log out of any account they use. This includes logging out of email, social media accounts, their school account, Amazon account, and any other account they may open.

Simply closing the tab is not enough. If someone gets on the computer immediately after they are done, they may still be able to get into your child's account. And once they have access, they can take control of that account by changing passwords.

Once they have control, they can impersonate your child online by making fake posts and comments that make your child look bad. Plus, once you lose access to an account, it can be difficult and time-consuming to regain control.

Refuse to Respond to Cyberbullies

If your child does experience cyberbullying, they should refrain from responding. This means they should not argue, try to explain, or engage in any way with a cyberbully.

Cyberbullies are looking for an emotional response, but if your child refuses to give them anything to go on, they are left with one-sided communications.

In the meantime, they should take screenshots of the harassment and save it as proof of the encounter. This documentation may be needed when reporting a cyberbully.

Report Cyberbullies

Make sure your child knows that they should always report cyberbullying. This includes not only telling you what is happening, but also letting the social media platform, internet service provider, and any other necessary parties know what is going on. You may even need to contact the school or the police to put an end to the harassment.

Once all the reports have been filed, take the appropriate steps to block the person or account responsible for the cyberbullying. Doing so doesn't prevent them from using a different account or a public space to continue to cyberbully your tween or teen, but it will slow them down.

Teens also should learn to be good bystanders too. If they witness cyberbullying online, they should refrain from participating in the cyberbullying and instead look for ways to support the person being targeted. They should also report what they witness online to a responsible adult like you, a teacher, or a principal—especially if they know who is doing the cyberbullying.

More often than not, kids are cyberbullied by people they know from their school or their community. So standing up for the person being targeted can help prevent future cyberbullying incidents, especially if the cyberbully is not getting the reaction they want.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you are looking to protect your child as they embark on the online world or they have already experienced cyberbullying, it is never too late (or too early) to implement strategies to prevent cyberbullying. Even college students and young adults can benefit from added safety measures.

Sit down with your kids and strategize how they can not only use online tools safely, but also how they can protect themselves from trolls, cyberbullies, and other toxic people online. You should also talk to them about what steps to take if they are cyberbullied, including how to report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities.

And remember, technology and the internet are not the issue. It's the people who use it to harm others that are the real problem. Try to refrain from taking away technology or limiting your child's access to online tools. Instead, teach them how to use these tools safely and responsibly. Doing so will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

6 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. Cyberbullying Research Center in Partnership With Cartoon Network. Tween cyberbullying in 2020.

  2. Pew Research Center. A majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying.

  3. L1ght. Rising levels of hate speech & online toxicity during this time of crisis.

  4. Nixon CL. Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent healthAdolesc Health Med Ther. 2014;5:143-58. doi:10.2147/AHMT.S36456

  5. Extremera N, Quintana-Orts C, Mérida-López S, Rey L. Cyberbullying victimization, self-esteem and suicidal ideation in adolescence: does emotional intelligence play a buffering role?Front Psychol. 2018;9:367. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00367

  6. Alavi N, Reshetukha T, Prost E, et al. Relationship between bullying and suicidal behaviour in youth presenting to the emergency departmentJdCan Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;26(2):70-77.

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