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Cyberbullying: Everything You Need to Know

  • Cyberbullying
  • How to Respond

Cyberbullying is the act of intentionally and consistently mistreating or harassing someone through the use of electronic devices or other forms of electronic communication (like social media platforms).

Because cyberbullying mainly affects children and adolescents, many brush it off as a part of growing up. However, cyberbullying can have dire mental and emotional consequences if left unaddressed.

This article discusses cyberbullying, its adverse effects, and what can be done about it.

FangXiaNuo / Getty Images

Cyberbullying Statistics and State Laws

The rise of digital communication methods has paved the way for a new type of bullying to form, one that takes place outside of the schoolyard. Cyberbullying follows kids home, making it much more difficult to ignore or cope.


As many as 15% of young people between 12 and 18 have been cyberbullied at some point. However, over 25% of children between 13 and 15 were cyberbullied in one year alone.

About 6.2% of people admitted that they’ve engaged in cyberbullying at some point in the last year. The age at which a person is most likely to cyberbully one of their peers is 13.

Those subject to online bullying are twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide . The percentage is much higher in young people who identify as LGBTQ, at 56%.

Cyberbullying by Sex and Sexual Orientation

Cyberbullying statistics differ among various groups, including:

  • Girls and boys reported similar numbers when asked if they have been cyberbullied, at 23.7% and 21.9%, respectively.
  • LGBTQ adolescents report cyberbullying at higher rates, at 31.7%. Up to 56% of young people who identify as LGBTQ have experienced cyberbullying.
  • Transgender teens were the most likely to be cyberbullied, at a significantly high rate of 35.4%.

State Laws 

The laws surrounding cyberbullying vary from state to state. However, all 50 states have developed and implemented specific policies or laws to protect children from being cyberbullied in and out of the classroom.

The laws were put into place so that students who are being cyberbullied at school can have access to support systems, and those who are being cyberbullied at home have a way to report the incidents.

Legal policies or programs developed to help stop cyberbullying include:

  • Bullying prevention programs
  • Cyberbullying education courses for teachers
  • Procedures designed to investigate instances of cyberbullying
  • Support systems for children who have been subject to cyberbullying 

Are There Federal Laws Against Cyberbullying?

There are no federal laws or policies that protect people from cyberbullying. However, federal involvement may occur if the bullying overlaps with harassment. Federal law will get involved if the bullying concerns a person’s race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

Examples of Cyberbullying 

There are several types of bullying that can occur online, and they all look different.

Harassment can include comments, text messages, or threatening emails designed to make the cyberbullied person feel scared, embarrassed, or ashamed of themselves.

Other forms of harassment include:

  • Using group chats as a way to gang up on one person
  • Making derogatory comments about a person based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or other characteristics
  • Posting mean or untrue things on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, as a way to publicly hurt the person experiencing the cyberbullying  


A person may try to pretend to be the person they are cyberbullying to attempt to embarrass, shame, or hurt them publicly. Some examples of this include:

  • Hacking into someone’s online profile and changing any part of it, whether it be a photo or their "About Me" portion, to something that is either harmful or inappropriate
  • Catfishing, which is when a person creates a fake persona to trick someone into a relationship with them as a joke or for their own personal gain
  • Making a fake profile using the screen name of their target to post inappropriate or rude remarks on other people’s pages

Other Examples

Not all forms of cyberbullying are the same, and cyberbullies use other tactics to ensure that their target feels as bad as possible. Some tactics include:

  • Taking nude or otherwise degrading photos of a person without their consent
  • Sharing or posting nude pictures with a wide audience to embarrass the person they are cyberbullying
  • Sharing personal information about a person on a public website that could cause them to feel unsafe
  • Physically bullying someone in school and getting someone else to record it so that it can be watched and passed around later
  • Circulating rumors about a person

How to Know When a Joke Turns Into Cyberbullying

People may often try to downplay cyberbullying by saying it was just a joke. However, any incident that continues to make a person feel shame, hurt, or blatantly disrespected is not a joke and should be addressed. People who engage in cyberbullying tactics know that they’ve crossed these boundaries, from being playful to being harmful.

Effects and Consequences of Cyberbullying 

Research shows many negative effects of cyberbullying, some of which can lead to severe mental health issues. Cyberbullied people are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts, actions, or behaviors and engage in self-harm as those who are not.

Other negative health consequences of cyberbullying are:

  • Stomach pain and digestive issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulties with academics
  • Violent behaviors
  • High levels of stress
  • Inability to feel safe
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness

If You’ve Been Cyberbullied 

Being on the receiving end of cyberbullying is hard to cope with. It can feel like you have nowhere to turn and no escape. However, some things can be done to help overcome cyberbullying experiences.

Advice for Preteens and Teenagers

The best thing you can do if you’re being cyberbullied is tell an adult you trust. It may be challenging to start the conversation because you may feel ashamed or embarrassed. However, if it is not addressed, it can get worse.

Other ways you can cope with cyberbullying include:

  • Walk away : Walking away online involves ignoring the bullies, stepping back from your computer or phone, and finding something you enjoy doing to distract yourself from the bullying.
  • Don’t retaliate : You may want to defend yourself at the time. But engaging with the bullies can make matters worse.
  • Keep evidence : Save all copies of the cyberbullying, whether it be posts, texts, or emails, and keep them if the bullying escalates and you need to report them.
  • Report : Social media sites take harassment seriously, and reporting them to site administrators may block the bully from using the site.
  • Block : You can block your bully from contacting you on social media platforms and through text messages.

In some cases, therapy may be a good option to help cope with the aftermath of cyberbullying.

Advice for Parents

As a parent, watching your child experience cyberbullying can be difficult. To help in the right ways, you can:

  • Offer support and comfort : Listening to your child explain what's happening can be helpful. If you've experienced bullying as a child, sharing that experience may provide some perspective on how it can be overcome and that the feelings don't last forever.
  • Make sure they know they are not at fault : Whatever the bully uses to target your child can make them feel like something is wrong with them. Offer praise to your child for speaking up and reassure them that it's not their fault.
  • Contact the school : Schools have policies to protect children from bullying, but to help, you have to inform school officials.
  • Keep records : Ask your child for all the records of the bullying and keep a copy for yourself. This evidence will be helpful to have if the bullying escalates and further action needs to be taken.
  • Try to get them help : In many cases, cyberbullying can lead to mental stress and sometimes mental health disorders. Getting your child a therapist gives them a safe place to work through their experience.

In the Workplace 

Although cyberbullying more often affects children and adolescents, it can also happen to adults in the workplace. If you are dealing with cyberbullying at your workplace, you can:

  • Let your bully know how what they said affected you and that you expect it to stop.
  • Keep copies of any harassment that goes on in the workplace.
  • Report your cyberbully to your human resources (HR) department.
  • Report your cyberbully to law enforcement if you are being threatened.
  • Close off all personal communication pathways with your cyberbully.
  • Maintain a professional attitude at work regardless of what is being said or done.
  • Seek out support through friends, family, or professional help.

Effective Action Against Cyberbullying

If cyberbullying continues, actions will have to be taken to get it to stop, such as:

  • Talking to a school official : Talking to someone at school may be difficult, but once you do, you may be grateful that you have some support. Schools have policies to address cyberbullying.
  • Confide in parents or trusted friends : Discuss your experience with your parents or others you trust. Having support on your side will make you feel less alone.
  • Report it on social media : Social media sites have strict rules on the types of interactions and content sharing allowed. Report your aggressor to the site to get them banned and eliminate their ability to contact you.
  • Block the bully : Phones, computers, and social media platforms contain options to block correspondence from others. Use these blocking tools to help free yourself from cyberbullying.

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, dial  988  to contact the  988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline  and connect with a trained counselor. To find mental health resources in your area, contact the  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline  at  800-662-4357  for information.

Cyberbullying occurs over electronic communication methods like cell phones, computers, social media, and other online platforms. While anyone can be subject to cyberbullying, it is most likely to occur between the ages of 12 and 18.

Cyberbullying can be severe and lead to serious health issues, such as new or worsened mental health disorders, sleep issues, or thoughts of suicide or self-harm. There are laws to prevent cyberbullying, so it's essential to report it when it happens. Coping strategies include stepping away from electronics, blocking bullies, and getting.

Alhajji M, Bass S, Dai T. Cyberbullying, mental health, and violence in adolescents and associations with sex and race: data from the 2015 youth risk behavior survey . Glob Pediatr Health. 2019;6:2333794X19868887. doi:10.1177/2333794X19868887

Cyberbullying Research Center. Cyberbullying in 2021 by age, gender, sexual orientation, and race .

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: StopBullying.gov. Facts about bullying .

John A, Glendenning AC, Marchant A, et al. Self-harm, suicidal behaviours, and cyberbullying in children and young people: systematic review .  J Med Internet Res . 2018;20(4):e129. doi:10.2196/jmir.9044

Cyberbullying Research Center. Bullying, cyberbullying, and LGBTQ students .

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: StopBullying.gov. Laws, policies, and regulations .

Wolke D, Lee K, Guy A. Cyberbullying: a storm in a teacup? . Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;26(8):899-908. doi:10.1007/s00787-017-0954-6

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: StopBullying.gov. Cyberbullying tactics .

Garett R, Lord LR, Young SD. Associations between social media and cyberbullying: a review of the literature . mHealth . 2016;2:46-46. doi:10.21037/mhealth.2016.12.01

Nemours Teens Health. Cyberbullying .

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

Nemours Kids Health. Cyberbullying (for parents) .

By Angelica Bottaro Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.

  • Open access
  • Published: 09 September 2022

The effects of cyberbullying victimization on depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults: a three year cohort study from India

  • Chanda Maurya   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-4321-3247 1 ,
  • T. Muhammad   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1486-7038 2 ,
  • Preeti Dhillon 1 &
  • Priya Maurya   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-5923-7884 3  

BMC Psychiatry volume  22 , Article number:  599 ( 2022 ) Cite this article

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Cyberbullying victimisation is considered a global public health issue concerning the psychological development of adolescents that oftentimes persists into adulthood. The current study explored the longitudinal relationship between cyberbullying victimisation and depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults, given the scarcity of such studies in poor-resource settings like India.

Data were drawn from the “Understanding the Lives of Adolescents and Young Adults” (UDAYA- 2015-16 and 2018–19) surveys conducted in two most-populated Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Bivariate and logistic regression analysis was conducted to fulfil the objectives of the study using a sample of 4428 and 11,864 adolescent (aged 10–19 years) male and female cohorts, respectively.

The prevalence of cyberbullying victimization increased from 3.8% to 6.4% among female respondents and 1.9% to 5.6% among male respondents over three years. About 33% of females and 16.6% of males had depressive symptoms in their young adulthood. Nearly 7.5% females compared to 2.3% of males, reported that they have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past one year. Adolscents who experienced cyberbullying victimization were 2.07 times more likely to have depressive symptoms comapared to those who did not experience cyberbullying victimization. Similarly, adolescents who experienced cyberbullying victimization were 2.50 times more likely to have suicidal ideation than their counterparts with no experience of cyberbullying victimization.

The findings suggest that cyberbullying victims are at higher risk of depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts and these adverse effects persist for longer period. Therefore, cyberbullying and related mental health problems need to be addressed with more efficient strategies such as increased awareness of nuances of online harassments among adolescent and young adult population.

Peer Review reports


Technological advancements in the last few years have led to increased social interactions that have negative consequences, known as cyberbullying [ 1 ]. Being bullied in adolescence is considered a global public health issue concerning the psychological development of adolescents that oftentimes persists into adulthood [ 2 , 3 ]. Features of cyberbullying such as publicity, permanence (i.e., single acts leading repeated harassments through views and distribution by others) and permeability of online messaging exacerbate the negative effects on adolescents’ mental health [ 1 , 4 ]. It is documented in multiple studies that adolescents who are cyberbullied by their friends or peers are at greater risk for mental problems including lower levels of self-esteem, feeling of loneliness, depression and suicidal ideation [ 5 , 6 , 7 ].

Importantly, victims of cyberbullying among adolescents even if the victimization is at low levels, are at higher risk of future mental health problems [ 7 ]. Further, several cross-sectional as well as longitudinal studies have reported that cyberbullying victimization is associated with an increased risk of suicidal ideation, self-harm and suicide attempts [ 8 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 ]. Extant literature has examined various factors such as lack of peer support, emotional intelligence, violent behaviour, substance use and access to social media and internet that may influence the association between cyberbullying victimisation and diverse forms of mental health disturbances [ 1 , 13 , 14 , 15 , 16 , 17 ]. Also, in multiple studies, adolescent girls’ mental health was more compromised than of boys due to exposure to cyberbullying [ 18 , 19 ]. The increased prevalence of cyberbullying victimization among female adolescents than males that lead to mental problems and suicidal ideation is reported in multiple studies [ 11 , 20 ].

A growing body of literature suggests that depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts are elevated among adolescents and young adults who consume alcohol or smoke tobacco or consume illegal drugs [ 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 ]. Besides, earlier research has shown the co-occurrence of conduct problems and depressed mood among individuals that increases their risk of suicidal ideation [ 25 ]. Furthermore, family socioeconomic status, measured through family income and parental educational attainment, was significantly associated with adolescent mental health [ 26 , 27 ]. A review of 55 studies among children and adolescents aged four to 18 years revealed that low socioeconomic status was longitudinally related to higher rates of mental health problems. Also,children and adolescents, who were socioeconomically disadvantaged, were two to three times more likely to develop depression and other mental health problems [ 28 ]. A list of social determinants, namely, place of residence, religion, race or ethnicity, work and education is also considered to influence depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents and young adults, especially in particular Indian context [ 24 , 29 , 30 ].

Several studies have examined the mechanisms underlying the association between cyberbullying victimization and depression among adolescents and young adults, and found that hopelessness [ 31 ], lowered self-esteem [ 32 ], psychological insecurity [ 33 ] and increased fears of loneliness [ 34 ] mediate such association. Similarly, emotional intelligence [ 35 ] and depressive symptoms [ 36 ] were shown to play a buffering role in the relationship between cyberbullying victimization and suicidal thoughts. Although internet and smartphone use come up with numerous benefits, it also has negative consequences and public health concerns in the present time. Since the use of technologies has increased in terms of internet communities and social networking web sites, chat rooms, and mobile phones, the cyberbullying may occur more frequently with greater repercussions than traditional bullying [ 37 , 38 ]. Figure  1 demonstrates how cyberbullying victimization can lead to low level of self-esteem, psychological insecurity and fear of lonliness resulting in depression and sucidial ideation. Examining such association can help inform policymakers the importance of interventions in current mental health policy and pre-existing multi-level approaches supporting mental health and anti-bullying efforts.

figure 1

Conceptual framework for depression and sucicial thoughts

Adolescents with depression in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) including India carry a double burden of depression and increased risk of engaging in risky behaviors and may impose a health burden on society as a whole [ 39 ]. Thus, the aim of this study was to explore the longitudinal relationship between cyberbullying victimisation and depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents and young adults, given the scarcity of studies in poor-resource settings like India. The study also explores such associations after controlling for several confounding variables such as violent behaviour, substance use and peer connection among adolescents and young adults.

Study degisn and setting

The present study used data from the “Understanding the lives of adolescents and young adults” (UDAYA) survey, which was conducted in two most populated Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar by Population Council under the guidance of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India [ 40 ]. The first wave was conducted in 2015–2016, and the follow-up survey was conducted after 3 years in 2018–2019. With the use of a multi-stage sampling procedure, the survey gathered information on family, media, community environment, and quality of transitions to young adulthood indicators, and provide the estimates for states as a whole as well as rural and urban of both states. The detail sampling were presented somewhere else [ 40 ]. The sample size for Uttar Pradesh and Bihar was 10,161 and 10,433 adolescents aged 10–19 years, respectively.

In wave-1 (2015–16), 20,594 adolescents were interviewed using the structured questionnaire with a response rate of 92%. Moreover, in wave-2 (2018–19), the study again interviewed the participants who were successfully interviewed in 2015–16 and consented to be re-interviewed [ 40 ]. Of the 20,594 eligible for the re-interview, the survey reinterviewed 4567 unmarried males and 12,251 females. After excluding the respondents who gave an inconsistent response to age and education in the follow-up survey (3%), the fnal follow-up sample covered 4428 males and 11,864 females, with a follow-up rate of 74% for males and 81% for females [ 40 ]. For this study, a total sample of 16,292 adolescent males and females aged 13–23 in 2018–19 considered with participants who were successfully interviewed in 2015–2016 and consented to be re-interviewed.

Outcome variable

This analysis contains depressive symptoms at wave 2 and suicidal ideation at wave 2 as the outcome variables. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the patient health questionnaire (PHQ-9) [ 41 ]; the respondent were asked about the symptoms in the past two weeks. The nine questions included, (a) had trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much, (b) feeling tired or having little energy, (c) poor appetite or eating too much, (d) trouble concentrating on things, (e) had little interest or pleasure in doing things, (f) feeling down, depressed, or hopeless, (g) feeling bad about yourself, (h) been moving or speaking slowly, (i) had thoughts that respondent would be better off dead. All the above questions were asked on a scale of four, i.e., 0 “not at all,” 1 “less than once in a week,” 2 “one week or more” and 3 “nearly every day.” The scale of 27 points was obtained using the egen command in STATA 14. The variable was recorded as 1 “yes” meaning meeting criteria for a depressive disorder if the respondent scored five and above on 0–27 scale and 0 “no depressive symptom” if the respondent scored less than five on the scale (0–4, minimal) [ 41 , 42 ]. Suicidal Ideation at wave 2 was recoded as 1 “yes” if the respondent had seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 1 years and 0 “no” if there was no such attempt [ 43 ].

Key explanatory variable

The main explanatory variable was cyberbullying victimization at wave 1 and wave 2, Cyberbullying victimization was assessed using the questions “Has anyone ever used a cell phone or text messaging to bother or harass you or to spread mean words or pictures about you?” and “Has anyone ever used the internet to bother or harass you or to spread mean words or pictures about you?” and it was categorized as 1 “yes” if the respondent had an affirmative answer to either of the questions and 0 “no” if the respondent did not experience cyberbullying through mobile/internet [ 44 ].

Other explanatory variables

Several potential confounders were selected and included in the current analyses according to the existing literature. Substance use was assessed using the questions “Have you ever had alcohol?” and “Have you ever consumed tobacco products, eg., smoke cigarette, eat paan, gutka etc.?”. The variable was recoded as 1 “yes” if the respondent ever consumed tobacco or alcohol and otherwise “no”. Violent behavior was assessed using the question “These days, we hear a lot about girls/boys getting involved in fights. In the last 12 months, have you been involved in a physical fight with other girls/boys, I mean, beating up other girls/boys, pulling hair, slapping etc?”. It was recoded as 1 “yes” if the respondent had an affirmative answer and otherwise “no” [ 40 ].

Age was grouped into 13–17 year, 18–20 years and 21–23 years. Sex was categorized as males and females. Marital status was categorized as single and married. Educational level was categorized as illiterate, up to 8 years and 9 years or above. Ownership of mobile-phone was categorized as “Own mobile”, if the respondent owned mobile phone, “Access family member’s mobile phone” if the respondent can access family member’s mobile phone and otherwise “no” if the respondent had not used mobile phone. Internet access was categorized as “yes” and “no”. Use of social media was categorized as “yes” and “no”. Peer connection was categorized as “good” having 5 or more friends and “bad” having four and less friends. Work status was categorized as “yes” doing paid work in the last 12 months and “no” not doing paid work in the last 12 months. Religion was categorized as Hindu and Non-Hindu. Caste was categorized as schedule caste/schedule tribe (SC/ST), other background classes (OBC) and others. The SC/ST group consists of socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, OBC refers to intermediate group of populations and others consist of people with comparatively higher socioeconomic status.

The survey measured household economic status, using a wealth index composed of household asset data on ownership of selected durable goods, including means of transportation, as well as data on access to a number of amenities. The wealth index was constructed by allocating the scores to a household’s reported assets or amenities. Index scores so constructed ranged from 0 to 57. Households were then ranked according to the index score. This ranked sample was divided into quintiles—that is, five groups, each containing an equal number of households—with the first quintile representing households of the lowest (poorest) wealth status and the fifth quintile representing households with the highest (wealthiest) status [ 40 ]. Place of residence was categorized as rural and urban. States were categorized as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. All the explanatory variables were taken from the follow-up data (wave 2), except the socio-demographic characteristics that did not change over time.

Statistical analysis

Descriptive and bivariate analysis was used to find out the preliminary results. Further, logistic regression was carried out to examine the association between individual, behavioural and physiological variables at wave 1, with respect to depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts at wave 2. The multivariable models were assembled as follow: in model 1, key explanatory variables were entered simultaneously to investigate their mutual independence, and model 2 was adjusted with both key explanatory variables and other variables. The model is usually put into a more compact form as follows:

Where, β 0 ..., βM are regression coefficients indicating the relative effect of a particular explanatory variable on the outcome. These coefficients change as per the context in the analysis in the study. The result were presented in the form of odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence interval (CI).

Mean age of the male participants was 17.79 years, and mean age of the female participants was 19.43 years in this study. Table  1 shows the socio demographic characteristics of the adolescents and young adults. Nearly half of the respondents were from age-group 18–20 years. Majority of the male respondents (94.08%) were unmarried whereas, more than half of the female respondents (50.79%) were married. Two-third of male respondents had their own mobile phone while, same figure for females were only 36.98%. Similarly, the prevalence of internet access and social media use were higher among male respondents (73.92 and 62.47%) than female respondents (33.64 and 22.95%). Male respondents had a better peer connection than female respondents. The prevalence of work participation among male respondents was 44.65% and among female respondents, it was 21.95%. Majority of the respondents were rural residents in this study.

The prevalence of cyberbullying victimization has increased from 3.76 and 1.86% to 6.43 and 5.62% among male and female respondents between wave-1 to wave-2, respectively (Fig.  2 ). About 16.62% male respondents and 32.95% female respondents had depressive symptoms. Further, the prevalence of suicidal ideation was higher among females than males. About 7.54% of females seriously considered attempting suicide in the past 1 year while the same figure for male respondents was 2.3% (Fig.  3 ).

figure 2

Trend of cyberbullying victimization through mobile/internet among adolescent males and females during wave-1 to wave-2 (2015–2016 to 2017–2018)

figure 3

Percentage of males and females having depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation at wave 2

Table  2 shows the results from the bivariate association for depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation with different socio-demographic variables for male and females separately. Adolescents who experienced cyberbullying at wave 1 had higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (males: 25.8% and females: 41.5%) and suicide ideation (males: 6.2% and females: 11%) at wave 2. Similarily, adolescents who experienced cyberbullying at wave 2 had higher prevalence of depressive symptoms (males: 27.8% and females: 49.1%) and higher suicidal ideations (males: 7.8% and females: 12.1%). It was found that depressive symptoms were significantly more prevalent among females who were ever cyberbullied at both waves. Adoelscents with depressive symptoms at wave 1 had higher prevalence of depressive symtopms (males: 12.1% and females: 49.1%) and suicidal ideations (males: 7.8% and females: 12.1%) at wave-2.

The estimates from the logistic regression analysis for depressive symptoms among adolescents are presented in Table  3 . Adolscents who experienced cyberbullying victimization at wave1 and wave-2 were 1.58 and 2.45 times more likely to have depressive symptoms at wave 2, comapared to those who did not experience cyberbullying victimization (Model-1). After adujsuting for socio-demographic variables, the magnitude of odds had slightly changed. Late adolescents aged 18–20 and 21–23 years had significantly higher odds of depressive symptoms as compared to younger adolescents (those aged 13–17 years) (Model-2).

The estimates from the logistic regression analysis for suicidal ideation among adolescents are presented in Table  4 . Adolscents who experienced cybullying victimization at wave 2, depression at wave 1 and suicidal ideation at wave 1, were 2.87, 1.74 and 2.25 times more likely to have suicidal ideation at wave 2 than their counterparts (Model-1). After controlling for socio-demographic characteristics, the magnitude of odds had changed slightly. Those who used substance or had violent behavior at wave-2 were more likely to have suicidal ideation. Adolescents aged 18–20 (OR: 1.80; p  = < 0.01, CI: 1.36–2.38) and 21–23 years ( p  = < 0.01, CI: 1.19–2.18) were significantly more likely to have suicidal ideation as compared to their younger (aged 13–17 years) counterparts. The likelihood of suicidal ideations were three times higher among females than males (AOR: 3.16; CI: 2.46–4.05) (Model-2).

Cyberbullying victimization has become a global phenomenon in a digitalized world, predominantly addressed in the developed world. In an attempt to address research gaps in understanding cyberbullying in India, this is the first study to elucidate the longitudinal association between cyberbullying victimization and mental health among Indian adolescents and young adults. With the rapid advancement and revolutionization of information and communication technologies (ICTs), adolescents and young adults use smartphone devices, internet and social networking services more frequently, which escalates the issue of cyberbullying abruptly, resulting in psychiatric problems and negative thoughts among victims [ 37 , 45 , 46 ]. The present study observed a strong association of cyberbullying victimization with depression and suicidal thoughts among adolescents and young adults. The relationships between cyberbullying victimization with depression symptoms and suicidal thoughts were stronger during the cross-sectional period in this study after adjusting for baseline characteristics.

The overall prevalence of cyberbullying victimization through mobile or internet has increased over the study period. Similarly, a repeated study from the United Nations observed an increasing trend of prevalence of cyberbullying victimization from 6 to 11% between the years, 2005 and 2010 [ 47 ]. This increase indicates that more number of adolescents have access to digital means of communication nowadays than in the past [ 48 ]. However, the literature is not uniform on this issue across developed and developing countries. The prevalence of cyberbullying victimization was lower in the present study than reported in other studies from India [ 49 , 50 , 51 ]. A clinical study from Turkey found that 62.2% of adolescents were victims of cyberbullying, which was much higher than non-clinical adolescent samples [ 52 ]. The possible explanation of the differences in prevalence in our study and other studies could be due to changes in methodology, survey design and access to and prevalence of internet use. Consistent with previous evidence from India [ 43 , 53 ], this study also found that a considerable number of adolescents and young adults had depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts, which was higher among adolescent and young adult females than males.

Our findings are in line with previous literature that suggested that victims of cyberbullying were more likely to be females [ 19 , 45 , 54 , 55 ]. Mesch (2009) found in their study that females were two times more likely to be victims of cyberbullying at least once than males [ 54 ]. This gender pattern may be delineated by cultural stereotypes where male respondents try to tackle the problem by themselves and avoid reporting of victimization as doing so might foul up their sense of masculinity. In reverse, females might encourage reporting of victimization as they perceive cyberbullying as serious problem and give more importance on peer relationships as well [ 45 , 55 ]. However, few studies reported male respondents were more likely to be victims of cyberbullying [ 7 , 8 ] and another study found no significant gender differences in victimization [ 56 ]. Gender-specific studies are warranted on this direction.

Furthermore, our findings are in concordance with prior studies that have shown that cyberbullying victimization has a negative impact on mental health [ 7 , 14 , 18 ] and suicidal thoughts [ 57 , 58 , 59 ]. This association was more prominent among those who experienced cyberbullies in follow-up period of the study. Fahy et al. (2016) also found in their longitudinal study that baseline cyberbullying victimization predicted depressive symptoms at follow-up period [ 7 ]. Similarly, another longitudinal study reported that cyberbullying victimization predicted negative thoughts and suicidal ideation among adolescents [ 56 ]. Researchers also coined this phenomenon as ‘Cyberbullicide’, which is defined the act of suicide influenced by experiences with online aggression [ 60 ]. Previous evidence has shown that being cyberbullied increased the chances of developing pessimistic slant such as loneliness, feeling dehumanized and helpless, leading to greater risk for depression and suicidal thoughts [ 37 , 45 , 55 , 61 ]. A shred of literature also stated that the relationship between cyberbullying victimization and mental illness generates a vicious cycle. Adolescents with depressive symptoms or poor mental health may be more likely to engage in social media and the internet to divert or covert from their emotions. Consequently, they become more exposed and vulnerable to victimization of cyberbullying, which leads to more risk of severe depression and suicidal thoughts [ 8 , 37 , 59 , 61 ]. Some authors also argued that these incidents take place in a bidirectional way, such as either depressive symptoms can be a cause or consequence of cyberbullying or vice versa [ 37 , 48 , 62 ].

Beside cyber victimization, having depression at baseline, substance uses and having violent bahviour were important risk factors for depression and suicidal thoughts after adjusting for other covariates. This finding suggests that adolescents having depressive symptoms may be more prone to substance use when facing negative experiences such as cyberbullying victimization. It may also reflect that adolescents suffering from online attacks were at higher risk of using substances to cope with the situations [ 55 , 57 ]. We found that violent behavior and depression at baseline were closely related with depression and negative thoughts among adolescents as they are interconnected. Violent behaviour often coexists with anxiety and adolescence is a period in which people often feel disgruntled, resentful or irritable. These kinds of emotions lead to violent behavior among adolescents resulting in depression and negative thoughts [ 63 , 64 ].

The present study revealed variation in prevalence of depression and suicidal ideation across different socio-demographic characteristics. Older adolescents and female participants were more likely to have depression and suicidal thoughts than their younger and male counterparts. This finding is partialy explained by biological theory and peer events occurring around the older and girl adolescents. Additionally, adolescent females may develop more negative perceptions of themselves in certain domains [ 21 , 65 ]. Findings also indicate that being single was a protective factor for depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts. This can be partially explained by the fact that married girls could not express their opinion compared to unmarried respondents [ 43 ]. This study revealed that having more number of friends leads to poor mental health and suicidal ideation among adolescents and the reasons might be feeling of insecurity, adverse life events among peer group [ 65 ]. However, having a good peer connection and social connctedness should be further investigated in light of their impact on adolescents’ and young adults’ mental health status.

This study is not without limitations. Although we utilized longitudinal data for the analysis, all measures included in the current study were self-reported which may lead to recall and desirability bias, especially in case of more sensitive questions. For example, some respondents may not have disclosed their experiences of cyberbullying victimization. Further, information on victimization of cyberbullying was derived from a single question at the time of the survey, but the severity of experience has not been considered in this study. In addition, the study utilized data from the year 2015–2016 and 2018–2019, so interpretation of the findings could not measure recent ongoing situations such as impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when online activity has increased. Therefore, such aforesaid conditions come up with potentially increased cyberbullying victimization rates among adolescents and young adults which need to be further investigated.

The present study adds to the growing body of evidence on the impact of cyberbullying victimization on depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults. Our findings suggest that cyberbullying victims are at higher risk of depression and suicidal ideation. Therefore, cyberbullying and related mental health problems need to be addressed with more efficient strategies such as increased awareness of nuances of online harassments among adolescent and young adult population. Also, emphasis should be given to promoting healthy internet use, safeguarding online activities, and providing knowledge of coping and help-seeking skills. Mental health is considered as a major public health concern in our country in National Mental Health Policy 2014. In spite of that, mental health problems associated with cyberbullying among adolescents and young adults should be considered specifically in Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram as this program targets adolescents and young adults. Additionally, the policy planning approach should be focused on prevention strategies in case of cyberbullying victimization. A multi-level approach at the individual, household, community, state and national level can be adapted to provide a safer online platform for adolescents and young adults in the country.

Availability of data and materials

Data for the study were extracted from the two waves of the “Understanding the Lives of Adolescents and Young Adults (UDAYA) survey” conducted by Population Council. The data is available only on request from: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/RRXQNT


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The paper utilized the secondary data collected as part of Population Council’s UDAYA study, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. No additional funds were received for the present study.

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Maurya, C., Muhammad, T., Dhillon, P. et al. The effects of cyberbullying victimization on depression and suicidal ideation among adolescents and young adults: a three year cohort study from India. BMC Psychiatry 22 , 599 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-04238-x

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Depression high among youth victims of school cyber bullying, NIH researchers report

Finding underscores need to monitor, obtain treatment for recipients of cyber bulling.

Graph showing depression levels related to bullying

Unlike traditional forms of bullying, youth who are the targets of cyber bullying at school are at greater risk for depression than are the youth who bully them, according to a survey conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

The new finding is in contrast to earlier studies of traditional bullying, which found that the highest depression scores were reported by another category of youth involved in bullying-bully victims. Past studies on traditional bullying show that bully-victims — those who both bully others and are bullied themselves — are more likely to report feelings of depression than are other groups.

Traditional forms of bullying involve physical violence, verbal taunts, or social exclusion. Cyber bullying, or electronic aggression, involves aggressive behaviors communicated over a computer or a cell phone.

"Notably, cyber victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying," the study authors wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health. "…unlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser; as such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack."

The analysis, of 6th through 10th grade students, was conducted by Jing Wang, Ph.D., Tonja R. Nansel, Ph.D., and Ronald J. Iannotti, Ph.D., all of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at NIH's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Dr. Iannotti noted that, although bullies are less likely to report feelings of depression than are bully-victims or victims, they are more likely to report depression than are youth not involved with any bullying behaviors — either traditional bullying or cyber bullying.

Being bullied interferes with scholastic achievement, development of social skills, and general feelings of well being, explained Dr. Iannotti, the study's senior author. In a study published last year, he and study coauthors reported that the prevalence of bullying is high, with 20.8 percent of U.S. adolescents in school having been bullied physically at least once in the last two months, 53.6 percent having been bullied verbally, and 51.4 percent bullied socially (excluded or ostracized), and 13.6 percent having been bullied electronically ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19766941 ).

The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration advises parents to encourage children to tell them immediately if they are victims of cyberbullying or other troublesome online behaviors. The agency also lists a number of steps that parents can take to help prevent cyber bullying and how to respond to it, at http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adults/default.aspx . The site also includes extensive information on preventing and dealing with traditional forms of bullying. The Center for Disease Control also provides information on electronic aggression for parents, educators, and researchers at http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/youthviolence/electronicaggression/index.html

In the current study, the research team sought to examine the association between depression and cyber bullying, which has not been studied extensively.

Graph showing depression levels of victims of cyber bullying

To conduct the study, the researchers analyzed data on American students collected in the 2005/2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children Study, an international study of adolescents in 43 countries ( http://www.hbsc.org/overview.html ). The researchers measured depression by gauging responses to six survey items. Students were asked to indicate, if, within the past 30 days, they felt very sad; grouchy or irritable, or in a bad mood; hopeless about the future; felt like not eating or eating more than usual; slept a lot more or a lot less than usual; and had difficulty concentrating on their school work. Students ranked their response according to a five item scale ranging from "never" to "always."

They were also asked to indicate whether they were involved with bullying behaviors, whether as perpetrators or victims. Survey questions were designed to measure the following forms of bullying: physical (hitting), verbal (such as name calling), relational (social isolation and spreading false rumors), and cyber (using computers or cell phones). The researchers classified bullying others or being bullied "two or three times a month" as frequent, and "only once or twice" as occasional. Respondents were further classified as either not involved with bullying (either as bullies or victims), bullies, victims, or bully-victims (who had bullied others and also been bullied themselves).

Compared to students who were not involved with bullying, adolescents who were bullies, bully victims, or victims tended to score higher on the measures of depression. Those frequently involved with physical, verbal, and relational bullying, whether victims or perpetrators, reported higher levels of depression than did students only occasionally involved in these behaviors.

For physical violence, no differences were found in depression scores among bullies, victims, or bully-victims. For verbal and relational bullying, victims and bully-victims reported higher levels of depression than bullies.

For cyber bullying, however, frequent victims reported significantly higher levels of depression than frequent bullies and marginally higher depression than frequent bully-victims. The finding that victims of cyber bullying reported higher depression scores than cyber bully victims was distinct from traditional forms of bullying and merited further study.

Because of the association between bullying and depression, bullies, bully-victims, and victims are candidates for evaluation by a mental health professional, Dr. Wang said.

Information about depression and its treatment is available from the National Institute of Mental Health, at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Dr. Wang noted that in their earlier study, she and her coworkers had found that students were less likely to bully or to be victimized if they felt they had strong parental support—feeling that their parents helped them as much as they needed, were loving, understood their problems and worries, and helped them to feel better when they were upset.

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Institute’s Web site at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/ .

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov .

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Home / Parenting, Kids & Teens / What is cyberbullying and how can it be prevented?

What is cyberbullying and how can it be prevented?

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essay on how to overcome depression brought by cyberbullying

Bullying has blighted childhood and growing up since time began. Bullying can include mean words, teasing, spiteful pranks, the spreading of false rumors, name-calling, the taking of personal items, exclusion from social groups and events, graffiti scrawled on a locker, pushing and shoving, harassment, threats, and in its worst form, physical violence. Bullying is repetitive, not just a single act of aggression.

Kids who are bullied often withdraw socially, begin to underperform academically, feel anxious, sleep badly, and may eventually become depressed and feel trapped if the bullying goes on long enough.

As seen in the media, extreme bullying scenarios have resulted in a tragic and growing list of young people who take their own lives, at least in part to escape persistent bullying.

Most forms of in-person bullying now also take place online, potentially doubling a child’s exposure to bullying. Online, screen-based or technology-based bullying, which can happen across any medium where social interaction takes place, is called cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying involves actions like:

  • Sharing photos or videos of people without consent to embarrass them, make them feel bad about themselves, or enact revenge for a friendship or relationship that has broken down.
  • Name-calling, teasing, belittling, mocking or social exclusion.
  • Spreading false rumors.
  • Creating fake social media accounts in an individual’s name and posting outrageous statements about a peer to isolate, degrade and prank both people.
  • Circulating a person’s private messages sent in confidence to a group for amusement and the power of violating privacy.
  • Sharing a person’s videos sent in confidence with a chat group or a class to cause embarrassment and ridicule.
  • Sending anonymous critical, harassing or threatening messages to people to damage their self-esteem, make them doubt that their friendship group cares for them or instill a sense of not being safe.
  • Texting or direct-messaging explicit, unsolicited images, real, altered or fake.
  • Leaking an individual’s personal information such as home address or phone number to peer groups to invade privacy and encourage personal attacks.
  • Unsolicited forwarding to an individual hurtful or hateful comments that were made by a social peer to undermine confidence and cause conflict within a social group.
  • Posting mocking or spiteful comments on an individual’s social media accounts both to cause upset and to encourage other followers, usually from the same school, to join in, triggering group cyberbullying.

While cyberbullying seems at first glance different from in-person bullying, [WNJ1]  experts see similarities.

“It’s the same sort of behavior,” says Bridget K. Biggs, Ph.D., L.P., a psychologist at Mayo Clinic. “Verbal aggression like name-calling, relational aggression like spreading rumors and trying to cut people out of relationships, and threatening or physical aggression — the effects are about the same, broadly speaking: lower mood, reduced self-esteem and anxiety, particularly social anxiety.”

Dr. Biggs underscores one key difference: unlike in-person bullying — unless it is caught on school security cameras — cyberbullying can be proved.

“Cyberbullying leaves a trail of indelible evidence, with the exception of disappearing message capabilities unless one can take a screenshot fast enough. But if a peer sends an unflattering or sexualized video or photo, that’s out in cyberspace forever. So there are positives and negatives to this permanence.”

What is the percentage of cyberbullying?

“The good news is that bullying overall, including cyberbullying, tends to decline after its prevalence peaks in mid-adolescence,” affirms Dr Biggs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cyberbullying is experienced by the highest percentage of kids in middle schools (33%) followed by high schools (30%) and primary schools (5%).

Among high school students in the U.S., 1 in 6 has been cyberbullied, compared with 1 in 5 who has been bullied in person. Furthermore, for children who identify as LGBTQ+, the Cyberbullying Research Center reports that 31% experience cyberbullying versus 21% of heterosexual students.

It’s no wonder that when Google surveyed U.S. teachers in 2019, bullying and cyberbullying headlined as their No. 1 concern.

What is the difference between cyberbullying and bullying?

Cyberbullying Facts: There are several ways that cyberbullying differs from in-person bullying:

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

If you were ever bullied at school, you’ll remember how quickly you felt shut out of life and how going into school each day was fraught with fear or a feeling of torture. Targets of cyberbullying are affected in much the same way as those bullied in person and can develop some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulties sleeping.
  • Not wanting to go to school.
  • Declining academic performance.
  • Acting distracted at home.
  • Reduced self-esteem.
  • Feelings of not fitting in or belonging.

As the extent or longevity of bullying increase, it’s possible for more extreme reactions to occur, including:

  • Self-harming behaviors such as cutting or burning.
  • Depression.
  • Thoughts of dropping out of school.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Suicide attempts.

“With traditional face-to-face bullying,” says Dr. Biggs, “when you get home, you at least get a break from it. But if that social connection is also online, then you are still connected via cyberspace when you get home. Cyberspace therefore becomes just one more place to experience bullying.”

In a rare minority of cases, there have been tragic, high-profile stories of kids in the U.S. driven to suicide by cyberbullying. However, research on this subject by Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center is careful to underscore that suicide is always complex, with multifaceted drivers.

“There’s an increased risk for suicidality if a child is being bullied, yes,” Dr Biggs adds. “But note that of all the kids experiencing bullying, it’s a really small number who commit suicide. That’s important for parents to know.”

Why do people cyberbully?

As with in-person bullying, bullies court popularity and power and see bullying as a means to exert influence, control friendships, and dominate classrooms and playgrounds. In making others feel small, they feel bigger. There are often familial factors behind bullying and cyberbullying, and those can include witnessing verbal or physical aggression at home, which can lead to similar behavior socially or at school. With cyberbullying, if the bully has a high number of followers on social media, the validation of likes and shares for bullying behaviors can be intoxicating and signal a formula for popularity.

How to stop a child who is cyberbullying

  • Explain what cyberbullying is , how it traumatizes others and its consequences.
  • Set out what behaviors are unacceptable and explain that you will monitor behavior.
  • Praise improved behaviors and set consequences, such as limiting gaming time, if your child cyberbullies again.
  • Propose a meeting with administrators at your child’s school if behavior deteriorates.

Is cyberbullying illegal?

Strictly speaking, no. But if cyberbullying touches on laws around stalking, criminal online harassment or sexting that involves third-party possession or wider distribution of nude photos of minors, then authorities can be engaged. And if cyberbullying — as with in-person bullying — leads to a physical attack on the victim, then assault charges may become valid. Relative to state and federal law, schools can intervene when bullying of a student is taking place by another student or group of students, though according to Pew Research Center, only 34% of parents whose child is being cyberbullied report it to the child’s school.

How can parents prevent cyberbullying?

One can’t prevent cyberbullying. After all, it’s impossible to live screen-free in our world today. But Dr. Biggs does advocate parents helping their child divert focus toward building a healthy social circle.

“The effects of being bullied are mitigated when people have strong social support,” she explains. “Even one good-quality friendship can make a difference. If a child has this, then the child may feel able to say ‘That’s a chat group I don’t want to be part of.’ Parents can support their kids by encouraging the fostering of friendships and activities that are positive. You can even ask: ”Who do you want to surround yourself with?’ That’s a very positive coping strategy, surrounding yourself with good people.”

As well as encouraging positive friendships, parents can also help clarify context.

“With cyberbullying,” Dr Biggs says, “if children show you a message that upsets them, which the cyberbully is calling a joke, you might say something like, ‘Well I didn’t find that very funny — I suggest you shrug it off and don’t engage, because this person just wants to pull you in.’ “

Dr. Biggs, a mother of two herself, sees conversations about cyberbullying as just another part of teaching children about online safety.

“Start having conversations about safe behaviors online as soon as your kid begins using technology. That shouldn’t be one conversation; it should be ongoing. You need to talk about phishing, scamming, people who may say they’re somebody but they’re actually somebody else and what information is safe to provide. And you should warn that there are people who do mean things online who might also do mean things in person. If kids already have that awareness, then when it happens, they can think, ‘I remember, a safe adult told me about that and predicted that this is something that could happen.’ “

Overall, though, Dr Biggs advises a delicate balance of supervision and distance.

“Not helicopter parenting and not letting them fly the helicopter,” she says. “Kids are more likely to use the internet safely and positively when their parents pay attention to what they are doing, provide guidance and set limits around use — but also allow some choice, input and autonomous decision-making, all while keeping the lines of communication open between themselves and their kids. It seems that providing some education about the benefits and dangers of the internet — including the possibility of aggression occurring in digital platforms — is beneficial. As with other responsibilities, it makes sense to ease restrictions and allow greater autonomy and choice as kids get older and as they demonstrate their ability to use the resource responsibly.”

How kids can limit their exposure to cyberbullying

  • Never respond unless a parent encourages you to assert a clear boundary and take a screenshot of your request — for example, “Please stop saying these things to me,” “I don’t want you to treat me this way” — so it can be used as evidence of online harassment, if needed.
  • Take a screenshot of all hostilities to establish a record of evidence.
  • Show a parent the messages or comments and talk it over.
  • Block and report cyberbullies on social media if doing so won’t inflame an already difficult situation.
  • If your parents agree, arrange a discrete meeting with a teacher.
  • Use privacy settings to protect personal posts on social media from being accessed by strangers.
  • Wait for at least 60 minutes before acting on an impulse to share sensitive photos, videos or information with a peer.
  • Have designated digital-free time each day .

The future of cyberbullying

Because it is next to impossible to live in a device-free world while growing up nowadays, parents may fear that nothing can stop their child being cyberbullied. However, Dr. Biggs cites one effective peer-to-peer method that does work: upstanding.

“Upstanding is when witnesses speak up and communicate that aggression is not acceptable and that treating others with respect is socially desirable or ‘cool,’ ” Dr Biggs says. “That does reduce bullying.”

There are also small poignant ways parents can reduce bullying of any type though, as Dr Biggs concludes:

“I heard of a parent responding to news that her child had been bullying another child on the bus. She told her son that she had heard that bullying had been happening — without indicating that she knew who was doing it — and asked him to look out for the child, as she knew that child to be a kind and responsible person. The bullying stopped.”

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Cyberbullying: what is it and how to stop it, 10 things teens want to know about cyberbullying..


  • Available in:

“What would you like to know about cyberbullying?” We posed this question to young people and received thousands of responses from around the world. 

We brought together UNICEF specialists, international cyberbullying and child protection experts, and teamed up with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to answer the questions and give their advice on ways to deal with online bullying. 

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include:

  • spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media
  • sending hurtful messages or threats via messaging platforms
  • impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf. 

Face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying can often happen alongside each other. But cyberbullying leaves a digital footprint – a record that can prove useful and provide evidence to help stop the abuse.

If you are worried about your safety or something that has happened to you online, urgently speak to an adult you trust. Or visit Child Helpline International to find help in your country.

COVID-19 update: The global coronavirus pandemic poses it's own challenges to the safety and well-being of children, especially those that are out of school. Visit the coronavirus (COVID-19) information center to know more.

The top 10 questions on cyberbullying

1. Am I being bullied online? How do you tell the difference between a joke and bullying? 2. What are the effects of cyberbullying? 3. Who should I talk to if someone is bullying me online? Why is reporting important? 4. I’m experiencing cyberbullying, but I’m afraid to talk to my parents about it. How can I approach them? 5. How can I help my friends report a case of cyberbullying especially if they don’t want to do it? 6. How do we stop cyberbullying without giving up access to the internet? 7. How do I prevent my personal information from being used to manipulate or humiliate me on social media? 8. Is there a punishment for cyberbullying? 9. Internet companies don’t seem to care about online bullying and harassment. Are they being held responsible? 10. Are there any online anti-bullying tools for children or young people?

Am I being bullied online?

1. Am I being bullied online? How do you tell the difference between a joke and bullying?

All friends joke around with each other, but sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is just having fun or trying to hurt you, especially online. Sometimes they’ll laugh it off with a “just kidding,” or “don’t take it so seriously.” 

But if you feel hurt or think others are laughing at you instead of with you, then the joke has gone too far. If it continues even after you’ve asked the person to stop and you are still feeling upset about it, then this could be bullying.

And when the bullying takes place online, it can result in unwanted attention from a wide range of people including strangers. Wherever it may happen, if you are not happy about it, you should not have to stand for it.

Call it what you will – if you feel bad and it doesn’t stop, then it’s worth getting help. Stopping cyberbullying is not just about calling out bullies, it’s also about recognizing that everyone deserves respect – online and in real life.

> Back to top

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

2. What are the effects of cyberbullying?

When bullying happens online it can feel as if you’re being attacked everywhere, even inside your own home. It can seem like there’s no escape. The effects can last a long time and affect a person in many ways:

  • Mentally — feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even angry 
  • Emotionally — feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things you love
  • Physically — tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches 

The feeling of being laughed at or harassed by others, can prevent people from speaking up or trying to deal with the problem. In extreme cases, cyberbullying can even lead to people taking their own lives. 

Cyberbullying can affect us in many ways. But these can be overcome and people can regain their confidence and health.

 Who should I talk to if someone is bullying me online?

3. Who should I talk to if someone is bullying me online? Why is reporting important?

If you think you’re being bullied, the first step is to seek help from someone you trust such as your parents, a close family member or another trusted adult.

In your school you can reach out to a counsellor, the sports coach or your favourite teacher.

And if you are not comfortable talking to someone you know, search for a helpline in your country to talk to a professional counsellor.

If the bullying is happening on a social platform, consider blocking the bully and formally reporting their behaviour on the platform itself. Social media companies are obligated to keep their users safe.

It can be helpful to collect evidence – text messages and screen shots of social media posts – to show what’s been going on.

For bullying to stop, it needs to be identified and reporting it is key. It can also help to show the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable.

If you are in immediate danger, then you should contact the police or emergency services in your country.

I’m experiencing cyberbullying

4. I’m experiencing cyberbullying, but I’m afraid to talk to my parents about it. How can I approach them?

If you are experiencing cyberbullying, speaking to a trusted adult – someone you feel safe talking to – is one of the most important first steps you can take.

Talking to parents isn’t easy for everyone. But there are things you can do to help the conversation. Choose a time to talk when you know you have their full attention. Explain how serious the problem is for you. Remember, they might not be as familiar with technology as you are, so you might need to help them to understand what’s happening.

They might not have instant answers for you, but they are likely to want to help and together you can find a solution. Two heads are always better than one! If you are still unsure about what to do, consider reaching out to other trusted people . There are often more people who care about you and are willing to help than you might think!

How can I help my friends

5. How can I help my friends report a case of cyberbullying especially if they don’t want to do it?

Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying. If you see this happening to someone you know, try to offer support.

It is important to listen to your friend. Why don’t they want to report being cyberbullied? How are they feeling? Let them know that they don’t have to formally report anything, but it’s crucial to talk to someone who might be able to help.

Remember, your friend may be feeling fragile. Be kind to them. Help them think through what they might say and to whom. Offer to go with them if they decide to report. Most importantly, remind them that you’re there for them and you want to help.

If your friend still does not want to report the incident, then support them in finding a trusted adult who can help them deal with the situation. Remember that in certain situations the consequences of cyberbullying can be life threatening.

Doing nothing can leave the person feeling that everyone is against them or that nobody cares. Your words can make a difference.

Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying.


We know that it can be hard to report someone. But, it’s never OK to bully anyone.

Reporting content to Facebook or Instagram can help us better keep you safe on our platforms. Bullying and harassment are highly personal by nature, so in many instances, we need a person to report this behavior to us before we can identify or remove it.

Reporting a case of cyberbullying is always anonymous on Instagram and Facebook, and no one will ever know you let us know about this behavior.

You can report something you experience yourself, but it’s also just as easy to report for one of your friends using the tools available directly in the app. More information on how to report something is included in Instagram’s Help Center and on Facebook’s Help Center .

You could also let your friend know about a tool on Instagram called Restrict , where you can discreetly protect your account without having to block someone -- which can seem harsh for some people.

We enabled  bystander reporting which means that you can make a report on behalf of another person. This can now be done for reports of private information and impersonation as well.

How do we stop cyberbullying

6. How do we stop cyberbullying without giving up access to the Internet?

Being online has so many benefits. However, like many things in life, it comes with risks that you need to protect against.

If you experience cyberbullying, you may want to delete certain apps or stay offline for a while to give yourself time to recover. But getting off the Internet is not a long-term solution. You did nothing wrong, so why should you be disadvantaged? It may even send the bullies the wrong signal — encouraging their unacceptable behaviour. 

We all want cyberbullying to stop, which is one of the reasons reporting cyberbullying is so important. But creating the Internet we want goes beyond calling out bullying. We need to be thoughtful about what we share or say that may hurt others. We need to be kind to one another online and in real life. It's up to all of us!

We need to be thoughtful about what we share or say that may hurt others.

Keeping Instagram and Facebook safe and positive places for self-expression is important to us -- people will only be comfortable sharing if they feel safe. But, we know that cyberbullying can get in the way and create negative experiences. That’s why at Instagram and Facebook, we’re committed to leading the fight against cyberbullying.

We’re doing this in two main ways. First, by using technology to prevent people from experiencing and seeing bullying. For example, people can turn on a setting that uses artificial intelligence technology to automatically filter and hide bullying comments intended to harass or upset people.

Second, we’re working to encourage positive behavior and interactions by giving people tools to customize their experience on Facebook and Instagram. Restrict is one tool designed to empower you to discreetly protect your account while still keeping an eye on a bully.

Since hundreds of millions of people share ideas on Twitter, it’s no surprise that we don’t all agree. That’s one of the benefits because we can all learn from respectful disagreements and discussions.

But sometimes, after you’ve listened to someone for a while, you may not want to hear them anymore. Their right to express themselves doesn’t mean you’re required to listen.

How do I prevent my personal information

7. How do I prevent my personal information from being used to manipulate or humiliate me on social media?

Think twice before posting or sharing anything online – it may stay online forever and could be used to harm you later. Don’t give out personal details such as your address, telephone number or the name of your school.

Learn about the privacy settings of your favourite social media apps. Here are some actions you can take on many of them: 

  • You can decide who can see your profile, send you direct messages or comment on your posts by adjusting your account privacy settings. 
  • You can report hurtful comments, messages and photos and request they be removed.
  • Besides ‘unfriending’, you can completely block people to stop them from seeing your profile or contacting you.
  • You can also choose to have comments by certain people to appear only to them without completely blocking them.
  • You can delete posts on your profile or hide them from specific people. 

On most of your favourite social media, people aren't notified when you block, restrict or report them.

Is there a punishment for cyberbullying?

8. Is there a punishment for cyberbullying?

Most schools take bullying seriously and will take action against it. If you are being cyberbullied by other students, report it to your school.

People who are victims of any form of violence, including bullying and cyberbullying, have a right to justice and to have the offender held accountable.

Laws against bullying, particularly on cyberbullying, are relatively new and still do not exist everywhere. This is why many countries rely on other relevant laws, such as ones against harassment, to punish cyberbullies.

In countries that have specific laws on cyberbullying, online behaviour that deliberately causes serious emotional distress is seen as criminal activity. In some of these countries, victims of cyberbullying can seek protection, prohibit communication from a specified person and restrict the use of electronic devices used by that person for cyberbullying, temporarily or permanently.

However, it is important to remember that punishment is not always the most effective way to change the behaviour of bullies. It is often better to focus on repairing the harm and mending the relationship.


On Facebook, we have a set of Community Standards , and on Instagram, we have Community Guidelines that we ask our community to follow. If we find content that violates these policies, like in the case of bullying or harassment, we’ll remove it.

If you think content has been removed incorrectly, we also allow for appeals. On Instagram, you can appeal content or account removal through our Help Center . On Facebook, you can also go through the same process on the Help Center .

We strongly enforce our rules to ensure all people can participate in the public conversation freely and safely. These rules specifically cover a number of areas including topics such as:

  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Abuse/harassment
  • Hateful conduct
  • Suicide or self-harm
  • Sensitive media, including graphic violence and adult content

As part of these rules, we take a number of different enforcement actions when content is in violation. When we take enforcement actions, we may do so either on a specific piece of content (e.g., an individual Tweet or Direct Message) or on an account.

You can find more on our enforcement actions here .

 Internet companies don’t seem to care about online bullying and harassment.

9. Internet companies don’t seem to care about online bullying and harassment. Are they being held responsible?

Internet companies are increasingly paying attention to the issue of online bullying.

Many of them are introducing ways to address it and better protect their users with new tools, guidance and ways to report online abuse.

But it is true that even more is needed. Many young people experience cyberbullying every day. Some face extreme forms of online abuse. Some have taken their own lives as a result.

Technology companies have a responsibility to protect their users especially children and young people.

It is up to all of us to hold them accountable when they’re not living up to these responsibilities.

Are there any online anti-bullying tools for children or young people?

10. Are there any online anti-bullying tools for children or young people?

Each social platform offers different tools (see available ones below) that allow you to restrict who can comment on or view your posts or who can connect automatically as a friend, and to report cases of bullying. Many of them involve simple steps to block, mute or report cyberbullying. We encourage you to explore them.

Social media companies also provide educational tools and guidance for children, parents and teachers to learn about risks and ways to stay safe online.

Also, the first line of defense against cyberbullying could be you. Think about where cyberbullying happens in your community and ways you can help – by raising your voice, calling out bullies, reaching out to trusted adults or by creating awareness of the issue. Even a simple act of kindness can go a long way.

If you are worried about your safety or something that has happened to you online, urgently speak to an adult you trust. Many countries have a special helpline you can call for free and talk to someone anonymously. Visit  Child Helpline International  to find help in your country.

The first line of defense against cyberbullying could be you.

We have a number of tools to help keep young people safe:

  • You can opt to ignore all messages from a bully or use our Restrict tool to discreetly protect your account without that person being notified.
  • You can moderate comments on your own posts.
  • You can modify your settings so that only people you follow can send you a direct message.
  • And on Instagram, we send you a notification you’re about to post something that might cross the line, encouraging you to reconsider.

For more tips on how to protect yourself and others from cyberbullying, check out our resources on Facebook or Instagram .

If people on Twitter become annoying or negative we have tools that can help you, and the following list is linked to instructions on how to set these up. 

  • Mute - removing an account's Tweets from your timeline without unfollowing or blocking that account
  • Block - restricting specific accounts from contacting you, seeing your Tweets, and following you
  • Report - filing a report about abusive behaviour

Expert contributions from: Sonia Livingstone, OBE, Professor Social Psychology, Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics; Professor Amanda Third, Professorial Research Fellow, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

With special thanks to: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

UNICEF contributions: Mercy Agbai, Stephen Blight, Anjan Bose, Alix Cabral, Rocio Aznar Daban, Siobhan Devine, Emma Ferguson, Nicole Foster, Nelson Leoni, Supreet Mahanti, Clarice Da Silva e Paula, Michael Sidwell, Daniel Kardefelt Winther.

To anyone who has ever been bullied online: You are not alone

TikTok stars Charli and Dixie D'Amelio open up about their personal experience of being bullied and share tips on how to make the internet a better place.

Reporting abuse and safety resources

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Cyberbullying Prevention and Intervention Efforts: Current Knowledge and Future Directions

Prévention de la cyberintimidation et initiatives d'intervention : connaissances actuelles et futures directions, dorothy l. espelage.

1 University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA

Jun Sung Hong

2 School of Social Work, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA

3 Department of Social Welfare, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, South Korea

Bullying is a serious public health concern that is associated with significant negative mental, social, and physical outcomes. Technological advances have increased adolescents’ use of social media, and online communication platforms have exposed adolescents to another mode of bullying— cyberbullying . Prevention and intervention materials, from websites and tip sheets to classroom curriculum, have been developed to help youth, parents, and teachers address cyberbullying. While youth and parents are willing to disclose their experiences with bullying to their health care providers, these disclosures need to be taken seriously and handled in a caring manner. Health care providers need to include questions about bullying on intake forms to encourage these disclosures. The aim of this article is to examine the current status of cyberbullying prevention and intervention. Research support for several school-based intervention programs is summarised. Recommendations for future research are provided.

L’intimidation est une préoccupation sérieuse de la santé publique qui est associée à des résultats négatifs significatifs sur le plan mental, social, et physique. Les progrès technologiques ont accru l’utilisation des médias sociaux par les adolescents et les plateformes de communication en ligne ont exposé les adolescents à un autre mode d’intimidation—la cyberintimidation . Du matériel de prévention et d’intervention, qu’il s’agisse de sites Web et de fiches-conseils ou de programmes d’étude en classe, a été mis au point pour aider les adolescents, les parents, et les enseignants à aborder la cyberintimidation. Les adolescents et les parents sont disposés à divulguer leurs expériences d’intimidation à leurs prestataires de soins de santé, mais ces divulgations doivent être prises au sérieux et traitées de manière bienveillante. Les prestataires de soins de santé doivent inclure des questions sur l’intimidation dans les formulaires d’admission pour susciter ces divulgations. Cet article vise à examiner l’état actuel de la prévention et de l’intervention en matière de cyberintimidation. Le soutien de la recherche pour plusieurs programmes d’intervention en milieu scolaire est résumé. Des recommandations sont offertes pour la recherche future.

Bullying is a serious public health issue, which has received a significant amount of research attention for several decades. Technological advances have increased adolescents’ use of social media and online communication platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. According to the Pew Research Center, 92% of children report going online daily, and 71% use more than one type of social media. 1 As a consequence, children are also increasingly exposed to another form of bullying, cyberbullying . Cyberbullying is defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phone, or other electronic devices.” 2 Using technology, youth can send or post humiliating or threatening messages or photos of their targets to a third party or to a public forum where many online participants visit. 2

Research findings on the prevalence of cyberbullying in Canada vary. 3 For example, according to a national study in Canada, which consisted of 1001 children ages 10 to 17 years, 14% of children reported being cyberbullied once or more in the past month. 4 Other studies 5 – 8 reported much higher rates of cyberbullying than the aforementioned study. Li’s study, 6 which includes a sample of 177 seventh-grade students in an urban area in Canada, found that over one-quarter of the students had been cyberbullied. Cenat and colleagues’ study, 5 which comprised a representative sample of 8194 students in Quebec, reported that 22.9% had been cyberbullied. However, Li’s survey 7 of Canadian students in grades 7 to 12 found that over 40% had reported being cyberbullied, and the Mishina et al. 8 study from a diverse sample of middle and high school students in a large urban center in Canada found that 49.5% reported being bullied online. These inconsistent rates are likely due to the use of different definitions, measures, timeframes, and response options across assessments, which require more empirical attention. 9

Targets of cyberbullying report greater depression, anxiety, risk behaviour, and suicidality than their peers who do not report these experiences. 10 – 15 For instance, a study consisting of a sample of students in 23 urban schools located in a western province in Canada found that youth who reported being cyberbullied also reported high levels of anxious, externalising, and depressed feelings/behaviour. Furthermore, face-to-face bullying victimisation is highly correlated with cyberbullying victimisation. 16 , 17 Recognising these outcomes, prevention and intervention materials, from websites and tip sheets to classroom curriculum, are being developed to curb cyberbullying. Regrettably, little information is available for health care providers who provide services for cyberbullied children and adolescents. This article reviews the current status of cyberbullying prevention and intervention efforts and provides suggestions for future research and implications for health care providers in Canada.

Evolution of Cyberbullying and Prevention Efforts

Research on cyberbullying is relatively recent in comparison to the 4 decades of research on face-to-face bullying. Technological innovations have changed people’s interactions with one another, and these innovations provide youth with hours of communicating with others without adult supervision, creating risk for bullying through new modes of communication. 18 As Kowalski et al. 19 argued, “A decade ago, technology had not advanced to the point where cyberbullying was even an issue…unfortunately, kids are keeping pace with the changes much more readily than adults” (pp. 41-42).

In addition to emerging research evidence of the frequency and serious consequences of bullying, cyberbullying in Canada and the United States gained nationwide media attention as a result of youth suicides involving cyberbullying. In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier, a cyberbullying victim in the United States, hanged herself due to constant bullying about her weight. In 2010, Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old teenager in the United States, hanged herself after enduring several months of cyberbullying from her classmates. 20 Such cases galvanised the state of Massachusetts to propose the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act” in 2009, but it was not enacted. In 2004, antibullying measures were proposed in the US House of Representatives to be included in the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, and all states currently have antibullying policies. Although the US Congress passed the Protecting Children in the 21st Century legislation in 2008, which also addresses cyberbullying, 21 not all states have updated their laws to include cyberbullying. At present, only 22 states in the United States have antibullying laws that include cyberbullying. 20

Canada’s recognition of cyberbullying as a social problem took a similar path. Suicides committed by 2 teens, Amanda Todd in 2012 and Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013, spurred Canada’s recognition of cyberbullying as a major public health concern. 22 In October 2012, 15-year-old Amanda Todd killed herself shortly after she was being bullied by her classmates. Prior to her suicide, she posted a video on YouTube, describing her torment. An anonymous perpetrator convinced her to lift her shirt for the webcam as he chatted with her. The perpetrator obtained a picture of her without a shirt on and threatened to expose the photo to her peers. Although she transferred to other schools several times, the perpetrator had contacted the students in her new schools and forwarded the image. 22 In the case of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, a photo of her severely intoxicated and being sexually violated by a male who gestured a thumbs-up to the camera was the main source of her torment and subsequent suicide. The image was sent to her peers, which led to derogatory comments online and in person. 22 These cases led to local legislative changes, including the Nova Scotia Cyber-Safety Act, which was enacted in May 2013. Since then, at least 9 provinces have new legislation or new laws that specifically address cyberbullying. 22 On December 12, 2014, the House Government Bill C-13 (aka, “Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act”) was passed by the Parliament of Canada—an amendment to the existing cyberbullying policy. 23 However, the Bill C-13 has been criticised for addressing cyberbullying in a cursory manner. Moreover, the bill is also problematic because the focus has been on increasing authorities to thoroughly investigate online activities, which has been argued as a violation of freedom of speech. 24

Preventing Cyberbullying through Informational Websites and Tip Sheets

Although scholars concur that cyberbullying prevention and intervention are necessary, there is no consensus on how to prevent or address cyberbullying. 25 However, one common strategy to prevent cyberbullying is to provide information for youth, parents, and school personnel on what constitutes cyberbullying and to avoid being a victim. 26 , 27 Youth, parents, and school administrators often learn about cyberbullying through websites (e.g., http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/index.html ; http://www.cyberbullying.ca/ ; http://www.prevnet.ca/ ) and tip sheets. 28 Ahlfors 29 examined characteristics of 17 cyberbullying prevention and intervention websites to determine how online resources are being made available. Results indicated that 14 of the 17 websites were designed to inform parents, with 7 addressing young children (ages 6-10 years), 8 addressing tweens (ages 11-12 years), and 11 addressing adolescents (ages 13-18 years). Nine of the websites also address school officials and 6 provide information for law enforcement. 29 None of the websites target health care providers, who often work with and treat cyberbullied children and adolescents. Interestingly, 6 websites were designed around a commercial product, and only 10 included citations to published research.

These websites appear to target parents the most, which assumes that parents are aware of cyberbullying. Scholars have argued that parents have a critical role in any effective strategy against cyberbullying, 25 as their involvement has been found to be related to a reduction in bullying and victimisation. 30 Interestingly, unlike 1 study in the United States, which found that adolescents often do not turn to their parents when experiencing cyberbullying, 31 a study in Canada found that cyberbullied adolescents are more likely to confide in their parents than in school officials. 32 Nevertheless, it is imperative that parents are prepared to respond to cyberbullying situations. Moreover, online resources must be available for youth who are looking to manage their online experiences without parental intervention. Also, parents, school staff, health care providers, and youth need to understand that online resources might be tied to the sale of a commercial product that is not grounded in research.

A number of tips for addressing cyberbullying for victims, parents, and/or educators have been proposed by several scholars. 33 – 35 Such tips range from “do not read messages by cyberbullies” (victims 28 ) and providing parents with education (parents 33 ) to clearly defining and requiring compliance with the Internet policy for students, providing extensive faculty training on cyberbullying, and adopting a whole-school prevention efforts. 27 , 34 Ortega-Ruiz et al. 36 further argued that effective programs require the following strategies: 1) proactive policies, procedures, and practices; 2) raising school staff’s and youths’ individual awareness and online social competence; 3) promoting protective school environment; and 4) school-family-community partnerships to promote cooperation between school staff, families, and local organisations.

Students’ and Educators’ Awareness, Attitudes, and Perceptions of Cyberbullying

Many schools hold school assemblies or use software programs to increase students’ knowledge about cyberbullying and its effects on the targets. Only a few studies have evaluated these approaches. In their pilot study in Taiwan, Lee and colleagues explored the effectiveness of WebQuest, experiential learning activities focus on students' knowledge and attitudes toward cyberbullying and involves completing 4 tasks in collaborative student groups. 37 Lee and colleagues 37 found that cyberbullying knowledge increased and intentions to cyberbullying decreased in the WebQuest condition compared to the control condition. Roberto and colleagues 38 examined the effectiveness of the Arizona Attorney General’s Social Networking Safety Promotion and Cyberbullying Prevention presentation, which was designed to change students’ perceptions and attitudes toward cyberbullying. This presentation was 45 minutes long and covered Internet safety and cyberbullying prevention. Also, prior to the presentation, the speaker gathered information from the Facebook accounts of students in the school and sent them friend requests. Results indicated that students in the experimental condition were more likely to engage in Internet safety precautions (e.g., keep accounts private, no personal information on sites, not friending people they do not know) than students in the control condition. However, both studies were limited in scope with short follow-up. Thus, much more research is needed to understand the long-term impact of these programs.

Other research has focused on understanding educators’ awareness and perceptions of cyberbullying. 33 , 39 Cassidy and colleagues 39 examined educators’ experiences with cyberbullying in Alberta schools, their knowledge of social networking sites, the priority they place on preventing cyberbullying, and approaches they take. The authors found that educators perceived cyberbullying as a cause for concern but were not familiar with how and where students engaged in cyberbullying. Educators also reported that no policies or programs have been specifically implemented in their schools. Another study, 40 which examined preservice teachers’ perceptions about cyberbullying in Canada, showed that although a majority of the teachers understood that cyberbullying can seriously affect children, most did not think it was a serious problem in their schools.

Role of Health Care Providers in Preventing Cyberbullying

In the past few years, primary care health care providers have been urged to take a more active role in preventing the long-term health consequences associated with youth bullying. 15 , 41 – 43 Research suggests that youth and parents are willing to disclose to their physician concerns with bullying if the physician handles the disclosure in a caring manner. 43 , 44 However, most youth would prefer disclosing their bullying experiences on an intake form prior to seeing the physician, and some would prefer that their parents are not present when they discuss their experiences. 43 Other scholars argue that health care providers need to ask youth directly about bullying involvement (being bullied by others and bullying others) at school and online, 42 including questions of duration, location, forms of cyberbullying, and how these cyberbullying experiences have affected the youth.

Efficacy of School-Based Cyberbullying Interventions

Research on cyberbullying prevention and intervention approaches is an emerging scholarship in many countries, including Canada. There have been 1 meta-analysis and 2 systematic reviews of cyberbullying programs, where the program specifically targeted cyberbullying and assessed cyberbullying as outcomes. In a systematic review, Mishna and colleagues 45 examined the impact of 3 programs on “cyberabuse” (2 in the United States, 1 in Canada). First, the US-developed I-SAFE curriculum 46 includes 5 lessons (60 minutes) on Internet safety, cybercommunity citizenship, cybersecurity, personal safety, intellectual property, and law enforcement online. Lessons were provided by teachers during class time, and almost all activities were offline and targeted students in grades 5 to 8. Second, the Canadian program, The Missing Program, an interactive computer game designed to teach youth about Internet safety, was reviewed. 47 When playing the game, youth assume the role of a police officer and have to solve a series of puzzles with the goal of finding a missing teenager who had been targeted by a predator. Youth learn that they cannot trust everyone online, and the program focuses on chat room conversations, emails with someone on the Internet, and personal webpage design. The third program reviewed by Mishna and colleagues 45 was called Help-Assert Yourself-Humor-Avoid-Self-Talk-Own It. 48 Research evidence found that the programs increased Internet safety knowledge but did not affect risky online behaviour. Thus, additional research needs to be conducted on how programs can affect youths’ behaviour.

Van Cleemput and colleagues 49 identified 15 programs in their systematic review and included 6 programs (8 articles) in their meta-analysis. Although the overall effects of cyberbullying reduction were modest (Hedges’s g = .13), they were significant, with some programs yielding greater reductions. These programs include a wide range of strategies, including social skills training, use of peer educators, and information for teachers, staff, and families. One of the most rigorously evaluated programs is Media Heroes (Medienhelden), a school-based, psychoeducational program in Germany that attempts to raise students’ awareness about risks associated with technology use, to increase empathy and social responsibility, and to teach strategies to defend oneself and others from cyberbullying. The program targets middle school and high school students and consists of ten 90-minute sessions delivered weekly (although there is a shorter 1-day version with reduced content, over four 90-minute sessions). Informed by the theory of planned behaviour, the program covers topics such as defining cyberbullying, a discussion of its negative impact, Internet safety tips, and opportunities to react appropriately using hypothetical scenarios. Two randomised controlled studies found that the program significantly reduced cyberbullying. 50 , 51 Van Cleemput and colleagues’ meta-analysis 49 indicated moderate reductions in cyberbullying perpetration (Hedges’s g = .19).

Help-Assert Yourself-Humor-Avoid-Self-Talk-Own It is a US curriculum (ages 10-12 years) with 5 lessons to reduce bullying through increasing social skills. 48 Results yielded moderate levels of reductions in cyberbullying victimisation (Hedges’s g = .32). 48

ConRed is a school-based program developed and evaluated in Spain. 36 Based on the theory of normative behaviour where attitudes and behaviour are influenced by perceptions of social norms, the program consists of 8 student lessons delivered over 14 weeks (ages 11-19 years), 2 sessions for teachers and 1 session for families. Three units cover the following topics using virtual scenarios: 1) Internet/social networks with a focus on privacy and control over accounts, 2) improving technical skills and prosocial online behaviour, and 3) Internet addiction and cyberbullying. Results indicated modest reductions in cyberbullying (Hedges’s g = .15, .06). 36 , 52 More recently, Del Rey and colleagues 53 reanalysed their data and found significant intervention effects on cyberbullying victimisation for cybervictims (Cohen’s d = .56) and cyberbullying perpetration for cyberbullies (Cohen’s d = .22).

Noncadiamointrappola is a program developed in Italy that focuses on peer educators to decrease cyberbullying (ages 14-19 years). 54 Four offline and 4 online peer educators are trained on bullying prevention concepts and then participate in a number of school-wide events (e.g., raising awareness, making a short film, meeting with school administrators, developing a guide on email and cell phone safety). Results indicated significant reductions in cyberbullying (Hedges’s g = .15, .06). 55

The KiVa program, developed in Finland, is a universal school-based program that addresses cyberbullying at school by working with teachers, parents, families, community leaders, and students. Teacher training, student lessons, and virtual learning environments are all critical components of this multicomponent program. 56 Teachers use a manual for classroom instruction, which is supplemented by an antibullying computer game for primary school children and an Internet forum for secondary school students. Results yielded moderate levels of reductions in cyberbullying victimisation (Hedges’s g = .23). 57

Surf-fair 58 is a German-based curriculum for 11- to 12-year-olds that can be delivered in one 90-minute session (definition of cyberbullying, diary exercise, coping strategies) or two 90-minute sessions (online safety, German laws on cyberbullying, and a film). Results yielded substantial reductions in cyberbullying victimisation (Hedges’s g = .49), but the program was less effective in reducing perpetration (Hedges’s g = .08).

Overall, this meta-analysis indicated that programs designed specifically for cyberbullying and those that target multiple forms of bullying showed promise in reducing this type of behaviour. From these studies, it appears critical to involve students, teachers, school staff, and families in the prevention of cyberbullying. Since this meta-analysis, there have been additional studies pointing to other promising school-based programs (Cyber Friendly School Program). 59 While much more research needs to be conducted on prevention programs, critical components appear to be Internet safety, responsible use of technology, parental monitoring, robust school policies around cyberbullying, and school-home partnerships.

Summary and Future Directions

Prevention programs are only now being developed and evaluated to address cyberbullying and cybersafety. Websites, tip sheets, and other online resources might be where parents are receiving information about how to best protect their children. However, it appears that these online resources are often promoted by organisations that are selling products and rarely grounded in research. There is a risk that this information could be harmful if not supported by scholarship. Parents, teachers, school administrators, and health care providers should be cautious when reviewing information on these sites and should focus on online resources that are provided by government agencies and advocacy groups that use research to guide their recommendations.

Also, with the exception of ConRed, 36 the other programs described here and reviewed in the meta-analysis by Van Cleemput and colleagues 49 were programs that targeted multiple forms of bullying. Thus, many efficacious bullying prevention and intervention programs or approaches could be extended to include contents on cyberbullying and measure these as outcomes. 60 , 61 For example, reductions in cyberbullying perpetration were noted in a recent randomised clinical trial of a middle school social-emotional learning program in 36 schools in the United States. 62 While cyberbullying was addressed in the curriculum, the majority of the program focused on promoting empathy, perspective taking, communication skills, problem solving, friendship skills, and so forth. Scholars who are evaluating antibullying programs should at the very least add cyberbullying outcome measures and include lessons on cybersafety and cyberbullying. However, schools need to be supported to implement these programs through stronger legislation that addresses cyberbullying, and health care providers need to be informed of the negative outcomes associated with cyberbullying and how to effectively work with cyberbullying victims.

Finally, much more guidance is needed for health care providers to prevent the long-term health consequences of youth bullying. While youth and parents are willing to disclose their experiences with bullying to their health care providers, their disclosures need to be taken seriously and handled in a caring manner. Health care providers need to include questions about bullying on intake forms to encourage these disclosures. Questions should include whether youth are bullying others or are being bullied by others, how long it has been happening, where it is happening (e.g., school, online, in sport), and how these experiences have affected the youth’s mental, physical, and social health. In relation to cyberbullying, health care providers should talk to parents about setting appropriate limits on screen time, monitoring their children’s use of the technology, talking to their children about Internet safety and privacy, and identifying why their children are not talking to them about their online experiences. In short, more research has to be conducted on the various ways in which schools, communities, and health care providers are addressing cyberbullying to determine how best to intervene.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests: The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding: The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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