Parent's Guide to Cyberbullying

This guide is meant as an accompanying guide to The Digital Parenting Guidebook. Please review the material in the book prior to using this guide.

Definition

The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”[1] While there are similarities to traditional bullying, there are compelling reasons to treat this as a unique behavior.

It is important to understand that according to this definition, there are requirements for what constitutes cyberbullying. Remember the following passage from The Digital Parenting Guidebook:

One of the reasons I prefer to use the definition from the Cyberbullying Research Center is that it gives us a framework to evaluate online interactions. It states that cyberbullying is willful. Given the lack of body language and facial expressions online, it can be easy to misinterpret someone’s message. If it isn’t willful, it isn’t cyberbullying. The definition also states that it needs to be a repeated behavior pattern, but we will discuss some situations that would require immediate action after a single offense. Next, the victim must realize they have been harmed by the interaction. Finally, it needs to happen on a digital device.[2]

Warning Signs

One of the biggest challenges for parents in this area is that teens and pre-teens often fail to report if they are cyberbullied. Some reports indicate that only 23% of cases are reported[3]. There could be many reasons why this happens. This includes:

  • The youth is afraid that digital devices will be taken away
  • The incident occurred on a platform the youth didn’t have permission to be on
  • The youth is afraid that reporting the incident will cause them to lose friends
  • The youth believes they can handle it on their own

Because of this, it is absolutely critical for parents to know what warning signs to watch out for. This includes both warning signs that your child is being bullied as well as warning signs that your child may be bullying another youth.

Take time to review the complete list of warning signs for both victims and perpetrators that is provided by the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Know the Law

Knowing the laws in your country and region are an important step in being prepared to address cyberbullying. If you are in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services provides an up-to-date listing of state and federal laws regarding this area. You can visit is at the link below:

Bullying Laws, Policies, and Regulations

Know Your School’s Policies

If your child is attending school outside of the home, it is critical that you understand the school’s policies when it comes to cyberbullying. Most schools have taken an active role in addressing this issue, because it often interferes with the learning environment. As a parent, you deserve to know all of the policies and procedures that are in place.

You should ask for the following information from the school:

  • Is there a bullying prevention plan in place for the school
  • Who should be contacted if my child is cyberbullied or has witnessed another student be cyberbullied
  • What is the criteria for school administrators getting involved in a cyberbullying incident

What To Do

Having a plan for cyberbullying will help you make better decisions should this ever affect your family directly. Take time to review the following action steps and understand when each step does and does not apply to cyberbullying.

Talking with Your Child

Keep in mind that there are many reasons why youth tend to not share about cyberbullying. Some of these reasons are tied to our reaction as parents. If they feel like we will overreact, become overly emotional, or immediately take away all digital access, they will be much less likely to share. Our reaction to previous events may shape how they approach cyberbullying.

Because of this, we need to create a supportive environment where they can share honestly about any cyberbullying incident. If they come to us with a concern, we should remind them that as a part of respecting themselves, they have done the right thing in reporting it to you.

The best tack parents and caregivers can take when their child is cyberbullied is to make sure they feel (and are) safe, and to convey unconditional support. Parents must demonstrate to their children through words and actions that they both desire the same end result: that the cyberbullying stop and that life does not become even more difficult. This can be accomplished by working together to arrive at a mutually-agreed upon course of action, as many times it is appropriate (and important) to solicit the child’s opinion as to what might be done to improve the situation.[4]

Keep a Record

Once you know that bullying has occurred, you should encourage your child to show you where it has happened. In most cases, this will mean that they will show you the app, gaming platform, or social media site where the bullying occurred.

At this phase, you should do your best to document everything. If you are on an iPhone or Android phone, this can be as simple as taking a screenshot of the evidence. Once you have the screenshots or screen recordings, you can send them to yourself via a message or email.

For instructions on how to capture screenshots or screen recordings, see the following links:

Make Direct Contact

In some situations, you may be able to reach out directly to the offender or the offender’s parents or guardians. If nothing illegal has occurred, this discussion may be able to resolve the offense. You will need to remind your child that to show the proper respect to themselves as well as protecting others from becoming victims, this conversation needs to happen.

If something illegal has occurred, law enforcement should always be contacted, even if you know the offender’s family.

Report to the School or Other Organization

In many situations, even if the bully is a classmate at your child’s school, you will not have direct access to the offender or the offender’s guardians. In this case, there is cause to get the school involved. Even if the offense happens off school property and after hours, you can still get school administrators involved in the solution.

In a previous step you determined the point of contact for cyberbullying at your child’s school. Reach out to this individual with a basic description of what has occurred. You may include some of the evidence with this initial message to ensure they understand the severity of the issue. Request a meeting with the administrators to discuss the incident and to determine next steps.

In some cases, the connection point between your child and the bully is not the school. It could be a church, sports team, or other organization. In these instances, you should setup a meeting with the leadership of that organization to discuss the incident. While most schools are well-versed in dealing with cyberbullying given its prevalence, these other organizations are less likely to have this level of experience.

Document all correspondence with the school or organization. This includes recording the meeting where the bullying is discussed (as long as all parties agree on the recording). The voice memo feature on your phone can be a great tool for capturing these discussions.

Report to Law Enforcement

There are situations when law enforcement should be contacted. If anything illegal occurred, then law enforcement should be your first point of contact. This could include:

  • Fully partially nude images of a minor
  • Threats of physical harm
  • Cyberstalking
  • Extortion / Blackmail

Since this list is not exhaustive, you should reach out to law enforcement if you even suspect that something illegal occurred. At this point, you can share the documented evidence that you have collected.

Report to the Social Network or Platform

In some cases, you may need to contact the companies behind the social network, game, or app where the cyberbullying is taking place. They should have capabilities to deal with these scenarios in a more direct way than what is available to users.

The Cyberbullying Research Center provides a lengthy list of platforms and their contact information.

Parent’s Checklist

  1. Review the list of cyberbullying warning signs
  2. Review your locality’s cyberbullying laws
  3. Determine your child’s school’s cyberbullying policies
  4. Review the plan of what to do if cyberbullying occurs

  1. Hinduja, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin. Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. Second edition, Corwin, 2014. ↩︎

  2. Tucker, David. “The Digital Parenting Guidebook.” DigitalParenting.com, 2023. ↩︎

  3. Caceras, Jennifer and Allison Holley. “Perils and Pitfalls of Social Media Use.” Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 1 March 2023, Volume 50, Issue 1, Redirecting. ↩︎

  4. Hinduia, Sameer, and Justin W. Patchin. “Cyberbullying: Identification, Prevention, and Response.” Cyberbullying Research Center, 2022, cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response-2022.pdf. ↩︎