The fact that cyberbullying involve the use of digital technology often increases the anxiety that we parents feel about it.


At first glance, cyberbullying may simply seem like bullying that occurs through digital technology.  But it’s more difficult to define than you might think.  Here is a review of the problems with the definition of “cyberbullying” recently published in the journal Pediatrics.  In summary, while we know that bullying is a repeated, deliberate attack on a less powerful person by a more powerful person, those characteristics are difficult to gauge in social media or digital environments.  For example, if a teenager sends a rumor to a few friends, they may not be intending to harm to the subject of that rumor.  They may in fact be greatly underestimating how fast the rumor will spread through social media.  Of course, there are other types of digital incidents that clearly meet the criteria of bullying.

Here are some facts about cyberbullying that you may find helpful.

#1 – Regardless of whether or not a digital incident meets the criteria for “bullying,” it can still be very harmful.

#2 – Most digital problems are not reported to adults, often for fear that devices will be confiscated.

#3 – Blocking or cutting off an abusive person online isn’t always the best solution.  Youth often feel anxious about not knowing what’s being said or talked about online, and many kids in the  MARC lab report to us that they simply reinstate communication because it’s better to know what’s going on than to wonder or be out of the loop.

#4 – FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – is a real phenomenon that can drive people to compulsively check their phones or social media accounts.  Rather than dismiss it, it is more productive to ask your child to discuss and describe it, and to think about it.

#5 – Children are fearless about using technology, but they are not particularly knowledgeable about it.  Your life experience is valuable, and so is their digital experience.  Discuss what you know and let them teach you what they know.  Discuss cases where other kids have run into trouble and ask your child what their opinion is, and how they would handle difficult situations.  It’s important to listen and discuss rather than to lecture or become upset.  The goal is to teach your child how to be a thoughtful consumer of technology.

#6 – Start these conversations when children are still young.  Research shows that young children are increasingly owning and using devices and that without education, these devices can increase the risk of becoming involved in cyberbullying.  Read more.


This site presents current research about reducing bullying AND reducing the harm that bullying can do.