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What is Cyberbullying?

cyberbullying
(Image credit: Image by Hatice EROL from Pixabay )

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs online and/or is perpetrated via technology. It can take place on social media, through videos and texts, or as part of online games, and involve name-calling, the sharing of embarrassing photos, and various forms of public shaming and humiliation. 

Children and teens spend more and more time socializing online. As a result, cyberbullying incidents have increased in frequency in recent years, which highlights the need for educators to be aware of cyberbullying and its potential to cause harm to students. 

Here is everything you need to know about the basics of cyberbullying.

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) that 16 percent of students experienced cyberbullying. More recently, Security.org’s research (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) and literacy, Rose said. These lessons and activities (opens in new tab) 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. 

Erik Ofgang is Tech & Learning's senior staff writer. A journalist, author (opens in new tab) and educator, his work has appeared in the Washington Post, 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.