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Bullying and Cyberbullying

How to Deal with a Bully and Overcome Bullying

Cyberbullying

For those suffering bullying or cyberbullying, the effects can be devastating, leaving you feeling helpless, humiliated, angry, depressed, or even suicidal. And technology means that bullying is no longer limited to schoolyards or street corners. Cyberbullying can occur anywhere, even at home, via cell phones, emails, texts, and social media, 24 hours a day, with potentially hundreds of people involved. But no type of bullying should ever be tolerated. These tips can help you protect yourself or your child—at school and online—and deal with the growing problem of bullying and cyberbullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that can be physical, verbal, or relational, in-person or online. Bullies are often relentless, bullying over and over again for long periods of time. You may live in constant fear of where and when the bully will strike next, what they’ll do, and how far they’ll go.

Types of bullying

Physical bullying – includes hitting, kicking, or pushing someone (or even just threatening to do so), as well as stealing, hiding, or ruining someone's things, and hazing, harassment, or humiliation.

Verbal bullying – includes name-calling, teasing, taunting, insulting, or otherwise verbally abusing someone.

Relationship bullying – includes refusing to talk to someone, excluding someone from groups or activities, spreading lies or rumors about someone, making someone do things they don't want to do.

Boys frequently bully using physical threats and actions, while girls are more likely to engage in verbal or relationship bullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses the Internet, emails, text messages, instant messaging, social media, online forums, chat rooms, or other digital technology to harass, threaten, or humiliate another person. Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying doesn't require face-to-face contact and isn't limited to just a handful of witnesses at a time. It also doesn’t require physical power or strength in numbers.

  • Cyberbullies come in all shapes and sizes—almost anyone with an Internet connection or mobile phone can cyberbully someone else, often without having to reveal their true identity.
  • Cyberbullies can torment their victims 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the bullying can follow the victim anywhere so that no place, not even home, ever feels safe, and with a few clicks the humiliation can be witnessed by hundreds or even thousands of people online.

How cyberbullying harms

The methods kids and teens use to cyberbully can be as varied and imaginative as the technology they have access to. It ranges from sending threatening or taunting messages via email, text, social media, or IM to breaking into your email account or stealing your online identity to hurt and humiliate you. Some cyberbullies may even create a website or social media page to target you.

As with face-to-face bullying, both boys and girls cyberbully, but tend to do so in different ways. Boys tend to bully by "sexting" (sending messages of a sexual nature) or with messages that threaten physical harm. Girls, on the other hand, more commonly cyberbully by spreading lies and rumors, exposing your secrets, or by excluding you from social media groups, emails, buddy lists and the like. Because cyberbullying is so easy to perpetrate, a child or teen can easily change roles, going from cyberbullying victim at one point to cyberbully the next, and then back again.

The effects of bullying and cyberbullying

Bullying and Suicide

If bullying or cyberbullying means you, or someone you know, feels suicidal, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S., or visit IASP or Suicide.org to find a helpline in your country.

Whether you’re being targeted by bullies or cyberbullies, the results are similar:

  • You’re made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, ashamed, and even guilty that the bullying is somehow your fault. You may even feel suicidal.
  • Your physical health is likely to suffer, and you are at a greater risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, or adult onset PTSD.
  • You’re more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school to avoid being bullied.

In many cases, cyberbullying can be even more painful than face-to-face bullying because:

  • Cyberbullying can happen anywhere at any time, even in places where you normally feel safe, such as your home, and at times you'd least expect, such as at the weekend in the company of your family. It can seem like there's no escape from the taunting and humiliation.
  • A lot of cyberbullying can be done anonymously, so you may not be sure who is targeting you. This can make you feel even more threatened and can embolden bullies, as they believe online anonymity means they're less likely to get caught. Since cyberbullies can't see your reaction, they will often go much further in their harassment or ridicule than they would do face-to-face with you.
  • Cyberbullying can be witnessed by potentially thousands of people. Emails can be forwarded to hundreds of people while social media posts or website comments can often be seen by anyone. The more far-reaching the bullying, the more humiliating it can become.

Why am I being bullied?

Why kids bully

While there are many reasons why bullies may be targeting you, bullies tend to pick on people who are “different” or don’t fit in with the mainstream. While your individualism is something that you’ll celebrate in later life, it can seem like a curse when you’re young and trying to fit in. Perhaps you dress or act differently, or maybe your race, religion, or sexual orientation sets you apart. It may simply be that you’re new to the school or neighborhood and haven’t made friends yet.

It's important to remember that you're not alone. Many of us have been bullied at some time in our lives. In fact, about 25 percent of kids experience bullying and as many of one third of teenagers suffer from cyberbullying at some point. But whatever your circumstances, you don’t have to put up with bullying. There are plenty of people who can help you to overcome the problem, retain your dignity, and preserve your sense of self.

Gay and lesbian youths are particularly at risk of bullying and cyberbullying.

Other kids and teens may harass, exclude, or try to out you. If you need help, call:

  • In the U.S.: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (488-7386)
  • In Canada: 1-877-OUT-IS-OK (688-1765)
  • In the UK: 0207 837 7324
  • In Australia: 1800 184 527
  • In New Zealand: (04) 473 7878

How to deal with bullying or cyberbullying

There is no simple solution to bullying or cyberbullying or best way to handle a bully. But it’s important that you reach out for help and don’t try to face the problem alone. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Seeing a counselor doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

Bullying or cyberbullying is rarely limited to one or two incidents. It's far more likely to be a sustained attack on you over a period of time. So, like the bully, you may have to be relentless and keep reporting each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason for you to ever put up with any kind of bullying.

If you are being bullied or cyberbullied, remember:

  • Don't blame yourself. It is not your fault. No matter what a bully says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel. The bully is the person with the problem, not you.
  • Try to view bullying from a different perspective. The bully is an unhappy, frustrated person who wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don't give them the satisfaction.
  • Don't beat yourself up. Don't make a bullying incident worse by dwelling on it or reading cyberbullying messages over and over. Instead, delete any messages and focus on the positive experiences in your life. There are many wonderful things about you so be proud of who you are.
  • Learn to manage stress. Finding healthy ways to relieve the stress generated by bullying can make you more resilient so you won't feel overwhelmed by negative experiences. Exercise, meditation, positive self-talk, muscle relaxation, and breathing exercises are all good ways to cope with the stress of bullying.
  • Spend time doing things you enjoy. The more time you spend with activities that bring you pleasure—sports, hobbies, hanging out with friends who don't participate in bullying, for example—the less significance bullying or cyberbullying will have on your life.

Tips for dealing with cyberbullying

Don’t respond to any messages or posts written about you, no matter how hurtful or untrue. Responding will only make the situation worse and provoking a reaction from you is exactly what the cyberbullies want, so don't give them the satisfaction.

Don't seek revenge on a cyberbully by becoming a cyberbully yourself. Again, it will only make the problem worse and could result in serious legal consequences for you. If you wouldn't say it in person, don't say it online.

Save the evidence of the cyberbullying, keep abusive text messages or a screenshot of a webpage, for example, and then report them to a trusted adult. If you don't report incidents, the cyberbully will often become more aggressive.

Report threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police. In many cases, the cyberbully's actions can be prosecuted by law.

Prevent communication from the cyberbully, by blocking their email address, cell phone number, and deleting them from social media contacts. Report their activities to their Internet service provider (ISP) or to any social media or other websites they use to target you. The cyberbully’s actions may constitute a violation of the website’s terms of service or, depending on the laws in your area, may even warrant criminal charges.

Find support from those who don't bully

When you’re being bullied, having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will ease your stress and boost both your self-esteem and your resilience. Reach out to connect with family and real friends (those who don’t participate in any kind of bullying). If you’re new to a school or neighborhood or don’t feel you have anyone to turn to, there are lots of ways to making new friends. It may not always seem like it, but there are plenty of people who will love and appreciate you for who you are.

  • Unplug from technology. Taking a break from your cell phone, computer, tablet, and video games can not only give you a break from cyberbullying but also open you up to meeting new people.
  • Find others who share your same values and interests. You may be able to make friends at a youth group, book club, or religious organization. Learn a new sport, join a team, or take up a new hobby such as chess, art, or music. Or volunteer your time—helping others is a great way to feel better about yourself and expand your social network.
  • Share your feelings about bullying. Talk to a parent, counselor, coach, religious leader, or trusted friend. Expressing what you're going through can make a huge difference to the way you feel, even if it doesn't change the situation.
  • Boost your confidence. Exercise is a great way to boost your self-esteem and reduce stress. Punch a mattress or take a kick boxing class to work off your anger in a healthy way.

Tips for parents and teachers to stop bullying or cyberbullying

No matter how much pain it causes, kids are often reluctant to tell parents or teachers about bullying because of a sense of shame at being victimized. In the case of cyberbullying, they may also fear losing their cell phone or computer privileges. Bullies also tend to be adept at hiding their behavior from adults, so if a child is being bullied it may not be obvious to a parent or teacher.

Warning signs of bullying and cyberbullying

Your child may be the victim of bullying if he or she:

  • Withdraws from family, friends, and activities they previously enjoyed.
  • Suffers an unexplained drop in grades.
  • Refuses to go to school or to specific classes, or avoids group activities.
  • Shows changes in mood, behavior, sleep, appetite, or shows signs of depression or anxiety.
  • Avoids discussions or is secretive about cell phone or computer activities.
  • Becomes sad, angry, or distressed during or after using the Internet or cell phone.
  • Appears anxious when viewing a text, email, or social media post.

Prevent cyberbullying before it starts

To stay safe with technology, teach your kids to:

  • Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages.
  • Tell their friends to stop cyberbullying.
  • Block communication with cyberbullies; delete messages without reading them.
  • Never post or share their personal information online (including full name, address, telephone number, school name, parents’ names, credit card number, or Social Security number) or their friends’ personal information.
  • Never share their Internet passwords with anyone, except you.
  • Talk to you about their life online.
  • Not put anything online that they wouldn't want their classmates to see, even in email.
  • Not send messages when they’re angry or upset.
  • Always be as polite online as they are in person.

Source: National Crime Prevention Council

Monitor your child's technology use

While it's important not to threaten to withdraw access or otherwise punish a child who's been the victim of cyberbullying, parents should always monitor a child’s use of technology, regardless of how much your child resents it.

  • Use parental control apps on your child’s cell phone or tablet and set up filters on your child's computer to block inappropriate web content and help you monitor your child's online activities.
  • Limit data access to your child's smart phone. Some wireless providers allow you to turn off text messaging services during certain hours.
  • Insist on knowing your child's passwords and learn the common acronyms kids use online, in social media, and in text messages.
  • Know who your child communicates with online. Go over your child's address book and social media contacts with them. Ask who each person is and how your child knows them.
  • Encourage your child to tell you or another trusted adult if they receive threatening messages or are otherwise targeted by cyberbullies, while reassuring them that doing so will not result in their loss of cell phone or computer privileges.

If your child is a bully

It can be difficult for any parent to learn that their child is bullying others but it's important to take steps to end the negative behavior before it has serious and long-term consequences for your child. Kids who bully others:

  • Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and drugs.
  • Are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
  • Are twice as likely as their peers to have criminal convictions as adults and four times more likely to be multiple offenders.
  • Are more likely as adults to be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children.

If your child has trouble managing strong emotions such as anger, hurt, or frustration, talk to a therapist about helping your child learn to cope with these feelings in a healthy way.

Bullying is often a learned behavior

Some bullies learn aggressive behavior from their experiences at home. As a parent, you may be setting a bad example for your kids by spanking or otherwise striking them, verbally or physically abusing your spouse, or by displaying bullying behavior such as:

  • Abusing your child’s sports coach, umpires and referees, or members of the opposing team.
  • Swearing at other drivers on the road.
  • Humiliating a waitress, shop assistant, or cab driver who makes a mistake.
  • Talking negatively about other students, parents, or teachers so that your child thinks it’s acceptable to use verbal abuse or cyberbullying to intimidate others.
  • Sending or forwarding abusive online messages that target coworkers or acquaintances.
  • Communicating with people online in ways that you wouldn’t do face-to-face.

Tips for parents dealing with a bullying child

Learn about your child's life. If your behavior at home isn't negatively influencing your child, it's possible their friends or peers are encouraging the bullying behavior. Your child may be struggling to fit in or develop relationships with other kids. Talk to your child. The more you understand about his or her life, the easier you'll be able to identify the source of the problem.

Educate your child about bullying. Your child may not understand how hurtful and damaging their behavior can be. Foster empathy and awareness by encouraging your child to look at their actions from the victim’s perspective. Remind your child that bullying and cyberbullying can have serious legal consequences.

Manage stress. Teach your child positive ways to manage stress. Your child’s bullying may be an attempt at relieving stress. Or your own stress, anxiety, or worry may be creating an unstable home environment. Exercise, spending time in nature, or playing with a pet are great ways for both kids and adults to let off steam and relieve stress.

Set limits with technology. Let your child know you’ll be monitoring their use of computers, tablets, smartphones, email, and text messaging. If necessary, remove access to technology until behavior improves.

Establish consistent rules of behavior. Make sure your child understands your rules and the punishment for breaking them. Children may not think they need discipline, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

Related articles

Teenagers' Guide to Depression: Tips and Tools for Helping Yourself or a Friend

Help for Parents of Troubled Teens: Dealing with Anger, Violence, Delinquency, and Other Teen Behavior Problems

Smartphone Addiction: Tips for Breaking Free of Compulsive Smartphone Use

Resources and references

General bullying and cyberbullying links

What is Bullying? – Information about bullying and strategies to make it stop. (StopBullyingNow)

Cyberbullying – How to identify, prevent and report cyberbullying. (StopBullyingNow)

Dealing with Bullying – Help for teenagers in dealing with bullies and bullying. (Nemours Foundation)

Bullying UK – Advice and support for students, parents, teachers, and those being bullied at work. (Bullying UK)

Sexual orientation and bullying

It Gets Better – Collection of videos for LGBT kids and teens who have to hide their sexuality for fear of bullying. (It Gets Better Project)

The Trevor Project – Organization helping LBGT teens and young adults who feel suicidal. (The Trevor Project)

Help for parents and teachers in dealing with bullying and cyber-bullying

Raising Children to Resist Violence – How parents, family members, and others who care for children can help them learn to deal with emotions without using violence. (APA)

Bullying – Help for parents, teachers, and kids in preventing and stopping bullying. (APA)

Resilience Guide for Parents and Teachers – Information on building resilience in children to shield them against emotional hurt from experiences such as bullying. (APA)

Bullying Prevention and Intervention – Tips on prevention and intervention for school administrators, teachers, family members, and students. (ADL)

Getting help for a bully or cyberbully

Teaching (Kids Not to Bully) – Understanding bullying behavior in children and how to help kids stops bullying. (Nemours Foundation)

How Not to Raise a Bully – Article that discusses how teaching empathy in kids from an early age may prevent bullying. (Time Magazine)

Authors: Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: October 2017.