Is Cyberbullying a Big Issue, Really?

Cyberbullying has become one of the major new issues affecting parenting of the decade, at least that’s what it feels like. Is the worrying really warranted? Many of the victims of cyberbullying are also victims of traditional bullying. Traditional bullying is something we’re all fully aware of and there are already ways in which these are being addressed in schools. However, one of the biggest issues around cyberbullying is that it mostly occurs outside of school.1
When it’s outside of school it’s out of the schools jurisdiction.

“Bullying occurs when an individual (or a group of people) repeatedly and intentionally cause harm to another person (or group of people), who is unable to avoid being targeted. Bullying can include:

  • Physical bullying (hitting, damaging property)
  • Verbal bullying (insults, teasing, intimidation)
  • Social bullying (lying, spreading rumors, excluding, damaging someone’s social reputation)
  • Cyberbullying (hurtful texts, posts, images or videos, imitating others online).”2

The Issue

Cyberbullying is unique in that the perpetrators have a level of anonymity about them. They can execute their bullying at any time of the day or night, and it’s usually outside of school hours. They can get to their victims in their own homes and cause more widespread public embarrassment. It tends to happen to slightly older children around 14 years of age or when they are given more access to electronic devices.

Cyberbullying is a problem for parents primarily because it’s new territory. There is no frame of reference to rely on because it isn’t something the older generations dealt with when they were growing up. Anything new is imminently more terrifying. What are the statistics? Are they really worth worrying about? What’s to be done about it?

Adults often think that there is an epidemic of cyberbullying and believe it is more common than data shows it to be. In fact, cyberbullying occurs much less frequently than traditional forms. Adults may also mistakenly believe that students are more upset by incidents of cyberbullying than students report being.3
Does this indicate that some of the education is getting through?

It is estimated that between 15% and 35% of young people have been victims of cyberbullying and between 10% and 20% of individuals admit to having cyber bullied others.4
Victims of cyberbullying are at greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours than non-victims.

In the USA it is estimated that nearly 14.6 million youth may experience traditional bullying and 6.2 million may experience cyberbullying as either a victim or perpetrator. Both traditional bullying and cyberbullying have similar attributes and overlap considerably with as many as 88 % of victims (or perpetrators) of traditional bullying also being cyberbullying victims (or perpetrators).5

There’s a whole list of statistics around bullying in America here. The most encouraging statistics indicate that although bullying awareness is increasing there is a slight decline in the prevalence of bullying, but only slight. Many programs have been used within schools to prevent bullying but we really haven’t found ‘the cure’.

Why do kids bully?

Perhaps the best way to tackle this problem is to go directly to the source. Why do kids bully in the first place? Primarily it’s learned behavior. This may be learned behaviour from their parents, teachers or coaches, older siblings who were bullied themselves or other kids. Kids who bully are often craving attention and a feeling of empowerment. They may be feeling neglected at home or exposed to drug and alcohol problems on a regular basis. You can read more about why kids bully here.

The Symptoms

People who are involved in cyberbullying are over 85% more likely to be involved in traditional bullying.[noteJuvonen J, Gross EF. Extending the school grounds?–Bullying experiences in cyberspace. J Sch Health. 2008 Sep;78(9):496–505. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00335.x. [PubMed] [Cross Ref] [Ref list][/note]
]Bullying can result in emotional distress, depression, anxiety, social isolation, low self-esteem, school avoidance, decreased academic achievement and substance abuse for the victim and the bully. These issues may continue into adulthood.
A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.6

Telltale signs of bullying include:

  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns,
  • Frequent tears or anger
  • Feeling ill in the morning and not wanting to go to school
  • Changing friendship groups and
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts and scratches.

    What Should We Do About It?

The great thing about bullying, whether it be cyberbullying or traditional bullying, is that everyone can do something to help.


If you’re a bystander, you can be a friend to a victim. You can catch up with them after school, sit with them on the bus, ask them to join in your activity or whatever makes you comfortable. You can also stand up to the bully when you see it taking place. Let them know that what they’re doing is mean and should be stopped. You don’t need to do this publicly. Online you can direct message them. Be careful not to bully them back. If you’re worried about retaliation then tell an adult.

When you tell an adult you can include suspected bullying as well as the real thing but try to include as much detail as possible. Once you’ve told someone, if you think they haven’t done enough about it, follow up with another adult. Stamping out bullying is really important.

For the Victims

Preventive measures for potential victims include finding enjoyable activities that promote confidence and self-esteem, modeling how to treat others with kindness and respect, and encouraging people to seek positive friendships.

The Other Victims

We’ve talked about cyberbullying and bullying victims in schools throughout this article, however, bullying is an issue that may continue after school. It can happen in the workplace from co-workers as much as from bosses. It may also occur in other groups.

For the Parents

Parents can help by monitoring their children’s online and offline activities and social interactions, and encouraging their child to talk about any troubling experiences. If bullying has occurred, parents must be careful not to react with anger or take action without consulting their child. Young people often hide bullying from parents because they fear the parent will make things worse.7

It is helpful for parents to use the LATE strategy:

  1. Listen
  2. Acknowledge it hurts
  3. Talk about options
  4. End with encouragement.


It’s nice to know that cyberbullying may not be the epidemic that we thought it was, however, bullying is still an issue that has long-lasting effects for the victim, the bully, and friends and family. Cyberbullying is adding another layer of complexity to an already complex problem. The more troubling issue is that we don’t really know how to solve the problem. We have tried a number of school programs, but only moderate results have been achieved. We need you to help us solve this problem. Your voice matters.

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  1. Smith, P.K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M, Fisher, S., Russell, S., Tippett, N. Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol. 49, Issue 4 April 2008 Pages 376-385
  3. Campbell, M.A. & Bauman, S. (2018) Prevalence and consequences of cyberbullying. In Campbell, Marilyn A. & Bauman, Sheri (Eds.) Reducing Cyberbullying in Schools: International Evidence-based Best Practices. Elsevier, London, UK, pp. 3-16.
  4. Hinduja S, Patchin JW. Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Arch Suicide Res. 2010;14(3):206–21. doi: 10.1080/13811118.2010.494133. [PubMed] [Cross Ref]
  5. Giumetti G.W., Kowalski R.M. (2016) Cyberbullying Matters: Examining the Incremental Impact of Cyberbullying On Outcomes Over and Above Traditional Bullying in North America. In: Navarro R., Yubero S., Larrañaga E. (eds) Cyberbullying Across the Globe. Springer, Cham

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