What is Cyberbullying? - Action for Healthy Kids
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What is Cyberbullying?

A guide for parents of teenagers

Online platforms offer teenagers the opportunity for social connection with peers, and also comes with risks related to cyberbullying. It is important that teens and parents can recognize cyberbullying, understand the consequences, and know how to address it in order to safely navigate online spaces such as social media, messaging apps, online forums, and online gaming communities.

Define it: What is cyberbullying?

There are many types of negative or hurtful online behavior, and it’s not all cyberbullying.  

  • Rude comments and behaviors: Often inconsiderate and may hurt someone’s feelings but are not done with the intention to hurt someone. 
  • Mean comments and behaviors: Said or done with the purpose of hurting someone else. 
  • Cyberbullying: Bullying that occurs online or over digital devices. Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behaviors that occur repeatedly and involve a real or perceived power imbalance. A power imbalance may exist between 2 people who have different levels of social status (like popularity at school or numbers of followers online), different levels of control over their online information, or different levels of technological skills that can be used to exploit or hurt others.1  
  • Harassment: Bullying that is directed towards an individual because of some part of their identity like their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.2 

Recognize It

Examples of cyberbullying can vary depending on the platform your teen is using. 

  • Sending repeated, threatening messages 
  • Impersonating someone by creating a fake account or hacking into someone else’s account to spread misinformation or harmful messages under someone else’s name 
  • Blackmail
  • Revealing identifying information such as someone’s address, phone number, or private photos 
  • Sending unwanted sexual messages or images or pressuring someone else to do so
  • Intentionally excluding someone from a discussion, group chat, or game in order to hurt them 
  • Verbally insulting or threatening others
  • Sabotaging or blocking the progress of others in a game, beyond what’s typical in competitive game play
  • Publicly streaming clips of players’ mistakes or creating posts to make fun of another player’s ability
  • Posting lies or rumors aimed at damaging another person’s reputation 

Be aware of the consequences

Cyberbullying can lead to serious long-term impacts on individuals such as anxiety, depression, stress-related disorders, loneliness, and suicidal behavior.3 If you’re concerned for your teen’s safety, check out Youth Mental Health Resources.

There are also legal consequences for perpetrators of cyberbullying. Each state’s laws are different, and many states require school districts to investigate and respond to bullying. You can review specific information about your state here. 

Contribute to a safe and inclusive digital community

Establish your own set of boundaries and guidelines for online behavior with your family.  

  • Have reasonable limits on screen time, designated screen-free family time, ask permission from family members when posting photos or stories, and install parental controls. After establishing your guidelines, make sure to model these behaviors yourself!  
  • Encourage your teen to be mindful of oversharing and protecting their personal information by ensuring posts do not include locations, recognizable landmarks, or identifying information like license plates and IDs.  
  • Familiarize yourself with various platform settings and features. A few examples of features to become familiar with include reporting tools, blocking, muting, privacy settings, location share, post visibility, keyword alerts, community guidelines and support, interaction limits, and comment filters.  

Talk with your teen about how to respond

You can discuss and co-develop a plan for addressing cyberbullying with your teen. The steps you take will be determined by the scenario, and you may need to use several of these steps. Consider what’s most appropriate to the situation:  

  • Unfollow and/or block 
  • Document evidence by screenshotting or screen recording content 
  • Report to platform for breaking community guidelines 
  • Reach out to a trusted adult for support 
  • Notify your school for support in investigating bullying 
  • Report to law enforcement  



1. StopBullying.gov. What Is Bullying. Accessed May 16, 2024. https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying

2. PACER. Questions Answered – National Bullying Prevention Center. Published 2023. Accessed May 16, 2024. https://www.pacer.org/bullying/info/questions-answered/bullying-harassment.asp

3. Nixon CL. Current perspectives: the impact of cyberbullying on adolescent health. Adolesc Health Med Ther. 2014;5:143-158. doi:10.2147/AHMT.S36456

This project on Improving Mental, Behavioral and Academic Supports to Students and Families, Part 2 is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $434,555 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.