From Cyberbully to Thoughtful: Parents’ Guide

While you can find a plethora of material and guidenace about dealing with cyberbullies and helping those who are bullied, there is much less information about what you can do if your own child is the one doing the cyberbullying. The first step to figuring out what to do if your child is being a bully is to admit it to yourself.

Many parents do not want to believe that their child is the one causing the problems. It is difficult to admit that your child may be a cyberbully. However, without that acknowledgment, your child will continue to get worse and this means they are hurting others as well as themselves. It’s not just the victims that need to learn how to cope, it’s essential that those who are bullying be treated to break the chain.

According to studies, children who are cyberbullies are more susceptible to using some kind of drugs or alcohol, dropping out of school early, and are typically unable to have successful relationships as they get older.

In a study published in Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, there are four main reasons for willingness to become a cyberbully. These include the willingness to send a humiliating or threatening message, being more likely to help others engage in cyberbullying, not defending those who are being cyberbullied, and encouraging others to practice some form of cyberbullying. (1)

The Negative Impacts of Being a Cyberbully

In many studies done over the years by researchers as well as educators, there are just as many negative impacts on those who are cyberbullies as there are on those who are being bullied. In fact:

  • Bullies are 138% more likely to use drugs than their not-involved peers. (23)
  • 79% more likely to experience self-harm and suicidal thoughts. (22)
  • 60% of boys who bullied in 6th–9th grades had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 and 35; 40% of these boys had three or more convictions by this time. (21)
  • 43% are more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. (19)
  • 39% were more likely to practice unsafe sex. (19)
  • over 85% of cyberbullies are also involved in traditional bullying. (20)
  • 24% were more likely to become involved in an unhealthy relationship. (19)

Breaking the Law

In another study, Shelgiri found that approximately 60% of boys who were bullies in middle school were convicted of at least one crime as an adult and about 40% of former cyberbullies had been convicted more than once by age 24. (21) 

Drugs and Alcohol

The Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology found that there were many connections between cyberbullying and other unsatisfactory behavior. For instance, results from a group of 12 to 13 year-olds showed that those who were cyberbullies were more apt to breaking other rules, which included smoking cigarettes as well as using drugs or alcohol. (6)

A group of studies done over a period of one year discovered that those who admitted to or were found to be a cyberbully were almost half as likely to use drugs or alcohol or have already used them. This included those children who were either admitted to or caught using illicit drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. (6)

Unsafe Sex

A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health and Medical Therapeutics found that those who are involved in cyberbullying were almost twice as likely to become involved in some unsafe sex practices. However, there is little factual data connecting the two. With cyberbullying being such a new topic, credible resources are difficult to find. (5)

Of the few studies on this matter, the findings have proved to be inconsistent to the point that they are not reliable enough to make a difference. What was found seems to be finding that cyberbullies may be more susceptible to peer pressure, which in turn leads to earlier and more frequent sexual activity. 

Unhealthy Relationships

While most often it is the victim of cyberbullying who is involved in an unhealthy relationship, the one doing the bullying may also be connected to that statistic. Because the bully is typically being bullied themselves, they are often found to be in an abusive relationship with someone else prior to, during, or after the incident of cyberbullying. 

It may be all the factors together that cause a susceptibility to become a victim of one of these addictions or issues or it could be that the bully will eventually get into trouble with the law, have unsafe sex, become addicted to drugs or alcohol, or be in an unhealthy relationship. Whatever the connection, it is important to look at all of these factors together when considering the cause and effects of being a cyberbully.

Consequences of Being a Cyberbully

Cyberbullies may also face consequences for their actions. For example, they can get in trouble at school or at home as well as with the law. Children who bully often go on to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, practice unsafe sex, and be in an unhealthy relationship. 

Cyberbullying is a crime in most states in the US and in some other countries as well. Depending on the type of bullying your child may be at risk of being put in juvenile detention or even jail. The criminal penalties vary by state from a fine of up to $2,400+ to 12 months in jail. (3) There are specific laws in each state but there are certain lines your child cannot cross to keep them from breaking the law. These include: 

  • Taking unwanted photos of someone
  • Committing hate crimes
  • Stalking someone
  • Sexting
  • Making obscene and harassing phone calls and texts
  • Making death threats
  • Making violent threats
  • Harassing someone based on race or gender
  • Physically assaulting someone

What is Cyberbullying?

While there is a clear definition of traditional bullying, cyberbullying is not as clear. According to the Webster Dictionary, cyberbullying is defined as the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (such as a student) often done anonymously. (7)

There have been many different definitions by researchers as well as therapists. However, there are just a few that are acknowledged by experts as of now. According to Olweus (8), bullying can be defined by three criteria, including: 

  • Aggressive behavior or intentionally causing harm.
  • The behavior continues over a period of time.
  • There is a personal relationship that can be characterized by an imbalance of power.

However, other experts have found more characteristics that should be added to the definition. Greene (9) concluded that there are two more features that a number of experts have agreed on. These include:

  • The victim is not provoking the bullying behavior in any way.
  • Bullying occurs in interconnected social groups.

The literature already out there describes cyberbullying types based on the mode of transmission such as phone vs. internet or the application such as email vs. instant messaging or texting. There are also different categories of cyberbullying including the type that takes place without the victim’s knowledge and those that are directly involved with the victim. (10)

Although it has been said that there are no physical types of cyberbullying, there are some that can be classed as property violations. For instance, sending a virus through an infected file. Further, electronic versions of non-verbal and verbal bullying and social exclusion are also recognized. (11)

Some examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Sending threatening or mean messages to someone’s phone or email. 
  • Spreading rumors about another person through the same platforms.
  • Posting threats or humiliating messages on a social media profile. 
  • Using another person’s social media account to send cruel or painful messages to another person. 
  • Taking and sending embarrassing or sexual photos of a person without their consent.

Do Kids Understand What Cryberbullying Actually Means?

Even with a definition in place, those in authority such as parents, teachers, and police do not agree with what is considered to be cyberbullying. This means that those who are bullying others may not even realize they are doing anything wrong. A study of 500 adolescents between 11 and 15 years old asked what they thought would be considered cyberbullying.

This same study found that 32% believed that sending an anonymous email, 29% thought it included insulting someone via email, chat, or texting, 23% believed it included frightening someone, 19% thought it involved placing an unwanted photo of a person online, 11% considered it to be hacking into someone’s home page, and 3% believed it included sending a virus to someone. (2)

Signs Your Kid is a Cyberbully

Cyberbullies are not “bad people,” and in fact, anyone can be a cyberbully. Also, some of those who are cyber-bullying do not even realize that is what they are doing. They may be just joking around or playing and end up hurting someone without realizing it. Then, when they get encouragement from their peers for what they did, they continue to do it because it feels good. 

There are certain signs you should be able to see to determine that your child may be a cyberbully. Some of these include:

  • Overreacts when internet use is denied
  • Excessively uses their phone or computer
  • Closes or switches screens when you or someone else comes near
  • Has more than one online account
  • Has had a history of being bullied or cyberbullied
  • Was previously accused of typical bullying

If you are concerned that your child may be a cyberbully, there are some things you can do to be sure. The first step is communication; simply talk to your child and let them talk freely without getting angry. Ask them about what sites they are using and who they talk to. You can also be your child’s “friend” on social media and get some idea of what they’re up to.

Common Reasons For Cyberbullying

In a study published in Family Community Health, cyberbullies report they have less emotional bonding with parents and siblings, poor relationships with friends, and often have little to no parental monitoring. In fact, more than 33% of these bullies reported that they do it for fun, 25% claim they do it in retaliation for something, and 10% said they did it because they were feeling low self-esteem (12)

  • Being bored: Nothing to do, lack of structure and parental presence. 
  • Victims of bullying: They have been picked on in school or at home, leading them to want to get payback.
  • Peer pressure: Friends or siblings pushing them to insult or hurt someone on social media or texting. 
  • Trying to fit in: Joining in with others who are posting mean or hurtful comments on social media platforms. 
  • Wanting to feel powerful: Trying to feel like they can do what they want because there are no consequences for them.
  • Boosting their self-esteem: Feeling bad about themselves and trying to bring others down with them so they feel better. 
  • Thinking they are just joking: Teasing a friend online about a sensitive subject but not understanding it may be very hurtful.

Determining The Root Cause of Cyberbullying

No matter what kind of cyberbullying your child is involved in, it is essential that you get to the bottom of it right away. Finding out exactly why they are doing it is the first and most important step in dealing with the problem. Could your child be a victim of bullying at school or at home? This is one of the most common reasons children start bullying others. 

Find out if your child is being picked on or if they are being hassled by friends to do something. Sometimes, the child is egged on by their friends to do something and they do it even though they know it is wrong. But they do it to get their friends to quit pushing them. Peer pressure can be a strong motivator when you are a preteen or teenager. 

My Child is a Cyberbully, What Can I Do?

There are things you can do if you find out your child is a cyberbully. If you suspect something is going on, you do not have to immediately take away their phone and internet usage. This can actually make things worse. Here are the steps to take to prevent or stop your child from bullying.

Talk to Your Child

The first thing you need to do is acknowledge the problem. Remain calm and do not lose your temper when you talk. Make sure your child knows they can talk to you about anything. If you punish them or yell at them for something they admit to doing, they will not even try talking to you again. 

For instance, you could take your child aside and have a nice calm conversation about what they are feeling. Let them know that they can talk to you without getting in trouble for what they have been doing but that you are concerned about their welfare. 

Find Out Why Your Child is Bullying

Is your child a victim of bullying, cyber or otherwise, or have they been in the past? Are they having trouble at home with siblings or another parent? They could also be using it as a coping method for some other kind of stress or anxiety. Worrying over grades, feeling left out at school or home, and peer pressure are just a few. 

Letting your child know that you are there for them is important so talk to them often about what is going on. Ask them specifically if they are feeling good about their schoolwork, whether they are having any trouble with friends or others at school, or if one of their siblings is messing with them.

Make Them Understand How it Feels

Even if your child has been bullied before, they may not even realize they are doing it. Sometimes what starts out as a joke or prank can lead to some kind of payback or revenge. Make sure they understand that what they are doing hurts people just as it hurts them. Practice empathy by educating yourself and your child about how cyberbullying can be painful as well as damaging. (9)

For example, explain to your child how his mean comments on Facebook could be causing his schoolmate to miss school because they are embarrassed or that making mean comments through texting can make their friend feel sad or hurt. 

Stop the Bullying

This does not mean that you should let your child continue bullying if that is what is going on. You are the parent, not a friend. Make sure they know that what they are doing has consequences and that they will not be allowed to cyberbully or allow others to do so in their name or on their social media profile. 

If your child admits to bullying, tell them calmly that it cannot happen again and that there will be consequences. Tell them exactly what those consequences are. For example, whether they will be grounded from their phone or internet and for how long.

Take Control

The time to take control is immediately. Do not wait and see if your child “gets better” or “starts being nicer.” You can still allow them to use their phone or social media but let them know that you will be monitoring them. Set limits, tell them from now on your will occasionally look at what they’re doing online, and continue to talk to your child daily. 

Now that your child knows there are consequences, you have to make sure to enforce them. Keep tabs on your child to make sure they are following the rules. Feel free to check their phone or computer to see what they have been doing and let them know that you will be doing so. (6)

Professional Treatment for Cyberbullies

There are several treatments out there for children who are cyberbullying. Once again, they are not bad kids, they are likely suffering too and need some kind of intervention and treatment. Unless you are a psychologist or psychiatrist (or even if you are), sometimes your child needs professional treatment before it gets worse. However, this is not true in all cases. With first-time incidents that are not extreme, just having a conversation and monitoring your child may be enough.

Anger Management

Have you noticed your child losing their temper often or easily? Does it seem like they have a short fuze and just about anything will set them off into a rage? These can be normal signs of adolescence but if your child is also bullying, they need treatment. You can teach them relaxation tips at home. But the best idea is to let a professional handle it. 

Psychotherapy

Sometimes, your child needs to talk to someone neutral about what is going on with them. They may not feel like they can talk to you or they may be embarrassed. Psychotherapy is a form of talk therapy that can help your child get to the bottom of why they are doing what they are doing and how to stop it. (13)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) 

Another form of therapy that works well with children and adolescents is cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. This is a form of retraining your child’s behavior or thoughts. The therapist will use talk therapy as well as other types of exercises to encourage positive behavior instead of negative behavior.  is effective in retraining a person’s behavior or thoughts to make a positive change in his or her daily life. Many kids who are bullied tend to develop certain safety behaviors to deal with depression or anxiety, and CBT helps them overcome these. (13)

Interventions

Get involved. Let your child know that you are serious and that what they are doing has serious consequences. Talk to the school about what is going on. If the school does not have a zero tolerance for bullying, they need one. Talk to the principal or a guidance counselor about putting a program in place. In addition, if your child has been bullying someone, talk to the parents about what can be done to remedy the situation. 

Alarming Stats

  • Cyberbullying is the #1 safety concern in classrooms, according to teachers. (15)
  • Bullying is easier to ‘get away with’ online, according to 81% of kids. (16)
  • Cyberbullies are twice as likely to bully their siblings at home. 
  • Girls more likely to be perpetrators (and victims) of cyberbullying than boys. (17)
  • Children who have been abused are 40% more likely to become cyberbullies.
  • The most common place where teen cyberbullying goes on is Instagram. (18)

FAQs

How to respond if my child is accused of cyberbullying others?

Talk to your child about it. Find out both sides of the story. It usually starts with a phone call, either from the school or another parent. The first thing you need to do is to stay calm and listen. Often, these phone calls are not easy for the other parent or school to make so take the time to listen and understant their point of view before anything else.

Consider what you would be feeling if your child was the victim. How would you want the other parent to react when you tell them about it. You surely do not want to get into an argument with anyone so listen and consider how they feel seeing their child hurt by others. Do not argue, and if the other parent is being argumentative, tell them you will talk about it after you speak to your child so they have time to calm down. 

Does my child understand he’s being a cyberbully?

Sometimes, the child has no idea that they are being a cyberbully. It is still a fairly new behavior that has not really been talked about much with children. A lot of kids think they are just joking and that they are not doing anything wrong. This is when you need to step in and let them know what it means.

What is something I do and am not aware of that may encourage cyberbullying?

Think about your family dynamic. Is there a lot of arguing and fighting at home? Are you yelling at your significant other or the other kids? Or maybe one of you have been losing control and insulting your child or one another. If your household is full of tension and unrest, your child will likely pick up on that, even if you think you are doing it in private. 

Should I involve anyone in the process? Who?

If your child has been cyberbullying someone, you should involve the parents of the victim. Talk to them and let them know that you are concerned and that you are aware of the situation. In addition, your child may need some kind of counseling or intervention from the school. If you are still having trouble, you may want to try an intervention program.

What skills are important to teach my kid to change his behavior?

There are even main skills that your child needs to be able to change their behavior. First, they have to take responsibility of their actions and not blame it on anyone else. They also need to be able to feel how the other child is feeling. You should also help your child deal with their anger. Give them some tools to deal with anger in a healthy way. 

Similarly, they need to learn how to control their impulses better. Letting them know about the consequences can help with this. Also, teach your child some skills for better self-esteem like social skills, resilience, and assertiveness. If your child is just trying to be popular and fit in, teach them that being popular is not as important as having a few good friends. 

The final and most important skill is respect. Your child has to learn to respect everyone no matter who they are. A lot of bullies have no respect for others and need to be taught how respecting others will benefit them. Show them that being positive and respectful will get them much further than bullying and shaming others. 

Is shaming my kid for being a cyberbully effective?

Absolutely not. In fact, shaming a child is one of the risk factors for becoming a cyberbully in the first place. You are a parent and you should act like it. By shaming your child, you are actually encouraging them to be a bully. Children tend to mimic what they see their parents do so if you are calling them names or making them feel bad, they will feel like that is what they should do to others. Also, shaming them for what they tell you will make them not want to share anything with you again. 

How can I handle group-driven cyberbullying?

Sometimes you just have to put a stop to some friendships your child has. If your child hangs around with a group of children who are cyberbullies and whose parents are not in the picture, that relationship should not be allowed to progress. Let your child know that you care and that you just do not want them to continue down a path that could lead to legal trouble and unhealthy relationships. 

How can I monitor my child’s actions online?

There are many programs and software out there that can help you monitor your child’s internet usage. For example, Net Nanny lets you control how much screen time they have and it can block certain apps and websites you do not want your child to access. Another one, Qustodio, does everything Net Nanny does but it can also track their calls and texts. (14)

References

1. Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Hess, M., Pfetsch, J., & Scheithauer, H. (2018). Who is involved in cyberbullying? Latent class analysis of cyberbullying roles and their associations with aggression, self-esteem, and empathy. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 12(4), Article 2. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2018-4-2
2. Vandebosch, H. & Van Cleemput, K. V. (2009). Cyberbullying among youngsters: Profiles of bullies and victims. New Media & Society. 11(8), 1349 – 1371. DOI: 10.1177/1461444809341263. Retrieved from: https://journals-sagepub-com.library.capella.edu/doi/pdf/10.1177/1461444809341263 
3. StopBullying.gov. (2021). Laws, Policies, and Regulations. Retrieved from https://www.stopbullying.gov/resources/laws 
4. Shetgiri R. (2013). Bullying and victimization among children. Advances in Pediatrics, 60(1), 33–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004 Nixon C. L. (2014).
5. Current perspectives: The impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health. Adolescent health, medicine and therapeutics, 5, 143–158. https://doi.org/10.2147/AHMT.S36456
6. Sticca, F., Ruggieri, S., Alsaker, F., & Perren, S. (2013). Longitudinal risk factors for cyberbullying in adolescence. Journal of community & applied social psychology, 23(1), 52-67.
7. Merriam Webster Dictionary. (1998). What is Cyberbullying? Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cyberbullying 
8. Olweus, D. (1999) ‘Sweden’, in P.K. Smith, Y. Morita, J. Junger-Tas, D. Olweus, R. Catalano and P. Slee (eds) The Nature of School Bullying: a Cross-national Perspective, 7–27. New York: Routledge.
9. Greene, M. B. (2000) ‘Bullying and Harassment in Schools’, in R.S. Moser and C.E. Franz (eds) Shocking Violence: Youth Perpetrators and Victims: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, 72–101. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
10. Griffin, R. S. and A. M. Gross (2004) ‘Childhood bullying: Current empirical findings and future directions for research’, Aggression and Violent Behavior 9(4): 379–400.
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12. Kiriakidis SP, Kavoura A. Cyberbullying: A review of the literature on harassment through the Internet and other electronic means. Family Community Health. 33(2):82-93. doi: 10.1097/FCH.0b013e3181d593e4. PMID: 20216351.
13. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (2019) Psychotherapy for Children and Adolescents: Different Types. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Psychotherapies-For-Children-And-Adolescents-086.aspx
14. WHIO TV 7. (2021). Online Security: 5 Parental Control Apps that Let You Monitor Your Kid’s Online Activity. Retrieved from https://www.whio.com/news/local/online-security-parental-control-apps-that-let-you-monitor-your-kids-online-activity/WZmXBeFcxlgKzji6yCasnO/
15. https://services.google.com/fh/files/blogs/parent_teacher_survey_us.pdf
16. https://www.cox.com/wcm/en/aboutus/datasheet/takecharge/2009-teen-survey.pdf?campcode=takecharge-research-link_2009-teen-survey_0511
17. https://www.cybercrimejournal.com/marcumetal2012janijcc.pdf
18. https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/The-Annual-Bullying-Survey-2017-1.pdf
19. Long, M., & Dowdell, E. B. (2021). Cyberbullying and victimization: An examination of online and health risk behaviors in high school. Pediatric Nursing, 47(5), 226-231,251. Retrieved from http://library.capella.edu/login?qurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.proquest.com%2Fscholarly-journals%2Fcyberbullying-victimization-examination-online%2Fdocview%2F2581883201%2Fse-2%3Faccountid%3D27965
20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7430539/
21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3766526/
22. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12889-019-8116-z.pdf
23. Illuminating the relationship between bullying and substance use among middle and high school youth, Addictive Behaviors, 2012, Kisha M. Radliff, https://www.academia.edu/20108810/Illuminating_the_relationship_between_bullying_and_substance_use_among_middle_and_high_school_youth