For Your Child: Know the Signs of Cyberbullying

Children and teens face pressures today that parents can never understand. Not only are they worried about school, grades and extracurricular activities, they are faced with a constant stream of information and communication via computers, smartphones and social media.

What is Cyberbullying?

Bullying is increasingly troubling today because it’s so much easier to get access to victims.

Cyberbullying can happen any time of the day or night and when your child is alone or in public. Those who are victims of cyberbullying are often victims of in-person bullying, too. But messages and photos can be posted anonymously and spread quickly, making it sometimes impossible to know the source.

According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 21 percent of students ages 12-18 have experienced cyberbullying. Thirteen percent had been made fun of or insulted, 12 percent had been the subject of rumors and 5 percent had been excluded from activities on purpose.

Severe or long-term cyberbullying can result in dire effects on the victim’s health, including depression, anxiety and other stress-related disorders. But many kids don’t want to report the problem to parents or teachers out of shame or the fear of losing their computer or cell phone privileges.

Bullying can take many forms. Several types of microaggressions can be indicative of cyberbullying, including microassaults, microinsults and microinvalidation.


A microassault is an explicit derogation characterized primarily by a verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior or purposeful discriminatory actions. Some examples include: referring to someone as “colored” or “Oriental,” using racial epithets, discouraging interracial interactions, deliberately serving a white patron before someone of color and displaying a swastika are examples.

A microinsult is characterized by communications that convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. Microinsults represent subtle snubs, frequently unknown to the cyberbully, but clearly convey a hidden insulting message to the recipient. An example would be a person telling an Asian-American that he or she speaks English so well, despite the fact that he or she was born in the United States.

A microinvalidation is characterized by communications that exclude, negate or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person or group. When you tell a story about something that you experienced, but someone tells you that you are being “too sensitive” or tells a person of color, “When I look at you, I don’t see color.”

These all convey that the bully or even unintentional bully doesn’t recognize the experience of the victim.

Signs of Cyberbullying

If you are worried about your child and his or her possibly being cyberbullied, here are some signs to look for:

  • being upset during or after using the Internet or the phone
  • being secretive or protective of one’s digital life
  • withdrawal from family members, friends and activities
  • avoiding school or group gatherings
  • slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home
  • changes in mood, behavior, sleep or appetite
  • wanting to stop using the computer or cellphone
  • being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text or e-mail
  • avoiding discussions about computer or cellphone activities

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child is Being Bullied

If you suspect your child is suffering from harassment online, there are some steps you can take. Most importantly, make sure your child knows it’s not his or her fault and that bullying shows more about the bully than the victim. Create an environment in which your child can come to you and talk about his or her problems. Don’t overreact, and definitely don’t blame the victim. Whatever you do, don’t brush it off or tell your child to “toughen up.” This invalidates the child’s experience.

Talk to your child’s school principal or counselor. Many schools and districts have protocols to deal with cyberbullying situations. Don’t delete the aggression — save it with time and date attached. If that’s not possible, write it all down. Documentation can help you get justice. If the event includes a physical threat or something sexually explicit, report it to the police. Help your child block the person who is attacking him or her. Cell phones can block numbers, and social media can block accounts. If it persists, report him or her to the social media administrators.

These steps might sound harsh if the cyberbully is a child, but your child’s health and mental stability is your most important issue. Also, some children may not realize that what they’re doing is bullying or that it can have serious consequences for themselves and others.

Keeping your child safe requires vigilance along with compassion. But if you work together as a family, you can save your child from serious harm as well as teach them how their actions affect others. Remember, whether your child is the victim or the cyberbully, they need your help. Bullying is a very serious issue, and both parents and educators need to be vigilant in their efforts to bring light to the situation, offer guidance, and explain the harmful consequences.

By Laura Pearson

For more information on bullying recognition and prevention, check out Laura Silverstein’s Bullying Prevention Course How to Prevent Bullying (Without Using the Word Bullying). It is an online tutorial course available for free on Skillshare if you sign up for a trial (then you can choose to cancel or continue for $15 per month.

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