From Social Media to School Halls: Understanding and Preventing Cyberbullying

(Image credit: Image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay)

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs online and/or is perpetrated via technology. 

This type of bullying has increased during recent years thanks to children spending more time online, both for school and socialization. The CDC reports that more than 1 in 5 high school students have been the victim of traditional bullying while 1 in 6 high school students have experienced cyberbullying. 

Cyberbullying can be particularly challenging for educators to prevent as it can’t be seen in school hallways and can occur off school grounds and after school hours. Despite this, cyberbullying still impacts students and can be an in-school problem. Preventing it often involves education, both of potential cyberbullying victims and perpetrators as well as outreach between education staff, parents, and other stakeholders. 

Cyberbullying can take place on social media, through videos and texts, or as part of online games. Instances can involve name-calling, the sharing of embarrassing photos, and various forms of public shaming and humiliation. 

This brief overview of cyberbullying includes strategies educators can take to prevent it.

What is Cyberbullying?  

Traditional bullying is generally defined as involving an imbalance of physical or emotional power, intent to cause physical or emotional harm, and behavior that is repeated or likely to be repeated. Cyberbullying also fits this definition, but occurs online frequently through social media or other forms of digital communication. 

Chad A. Rose, director of Mizzou Ed Bully Prevention Lab at the University of Missouri, has said that unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can occur anytime and anyplace. 

“We live in a world now where bullying doesn’t begin and end with school bells,” Rose said. “It encompasses a kid’s entire life.”

How Common is Cyberbullying? 

Cyberbullying can be hard for both educators and parents to recognize because they don’t overhear or see it occurring, and it might take place in private text chains or on message boards that adults don’t typically frequent. Students may also be reluctant to admit it is happening. 

Even so, there is good evidence cyberbullying is on the rise. In 2019, The CDC found that 16 percent of students experienced cyberbullying. More recently,’s research found that 20 percent of kids and adolescents between the age of 10 and 18 experienced cyberbullying, and children from households that earned less than $75,000 annually were more than twice as likely to experience cyberbullying. 

What Are Some Ways To Prevent Cyberbullying?  

To prevent cyberbullying students should be taught digital citizenship and literacy, Rose said. These lessons and activities should emphasize online safety, remind students to think before posting, that posts are permanent, and that there are important implications to that permanence. 

Other key steps are for school leaders to prioritize SEL and empathy education and to forge strong relationships with caregivers. That way if cyberbullying does occur, the caregivers of both the victim and the perpetrator can be enlisted to help put an end to it. 

While some educators, parents, and caregivers might be inclined to ban technology use as a way to protect students from cyberbullying, Rose said that’s not the answer because technology is part of kids’ lives. 

“We used to tell kids if someone is mistreating you, delete the app,” Rose said. “I’ve long said that we can’t just tell them to socially remove themselves.” For example, Rose said you wouldn’t tell a child to stop playing basketball if they were getting bullied on the court.

Instead of banning technology use, educators and caregivers need to teach children how to use technology responsibly and guard themselves against the negative effects of cyberbullying. 

Cyberbullying Prevention Resources 

Erik Ofgang

Erik Ofgang is a Tech & Learning contributor. A journalist, author and educator, his work has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and Associated Press. He currently teaches at Western Connecticut State University’s MFA program. While a staff writer at Connecticut Magazine he won a Society of Professional Journalism Award for his education reporting. He is interested in how humans learn and how technology can make that more effective.