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A Parent’s Guide to Recognizing and Addressing Cyberbullying on Social Media

By Andrea Karin Nelson
November 23, 2023
Mom comforting daughter

Cyberbullying has been around as long as the internet. But social media, in particular, comes with unique avenues for bullies to exploit. It’s important for parents to understand how cyberbullying occurs on social media and learn how to help if their child becomes a victim. 

Spotting cyberbullying on social media

Here are some of the most common ways your child might experience cyberbullying on social media. 

Direct messages

Forget traditional text messages — most tweens and teens communicate with their peers primarily through direct messages (DMs) on social media. That may include sending harassing or threatening DMs intended to bully the recipient. 

In fact, 59% of teens experience online abuse, and 25% say they’ve received explicit images they didn’t ask for.

Comments

If you’ve spent any time on social media, you know how easily a comment thread can turn into a raging dumpster fire. Cyberbullies often make nasty comments on their target’s social media posts, which can quickly snowball as others join in. 

Doxxing 

Doxxing involves publishing a person’s private information online without their consent. It originated with ‘90s hacker culture, but has since taken its place on the mainstream internet, particularly with the rise of social media. The information revealed in doxxing can vary from embarrassing to dangerous, and it’s often accompanied by threats or inciting others to harass the targeted person.

Memes

We all laugh at a good meme now and again — but they can be a tool for cyberbullies, too. Sometimes, bullies take photos or videos of their targets and turn them into cruel or embarrassing memes, spreading them across social media. Due to the viral nature of memes, the damage inflicted on your child can be long-lasting. 

Fake accounts

Part of the internet’s appeal for bullies is the ability to remain anonymous. A bully may create a fake account or screen name — sometimes referred to as a sockpuppet — in order to fly under the radar. 

A teen may use a fake account to strike up an online relationship with a peer, then spread the personal information gained in their conversations. 

Sexting

One of the many reasons to warn your child about the risks of sexting (including through DMs) is the possibility that the photos or videos can be shared online without their consent. This can happen if the relationship goes sour or the material finds its way into someone else’s hands. 

Snapchat and cyberbullying 

Snapchat (or “Snap,” as your kids likely call it) is a photo- and video-based instant messaging app that is especially popular with teens and tweens. Messages on this platform can disappear either immediately after being viewed or within 24 hours, based on the sender's selected settings.

The impermanent nature of Snaps make them particularly well-suited for cyberbullying. Victims may question what they’ve just seen or fear not being believed because they have nothing to prove it happened — making victims of cyberbullying hesitant to report the problem. The disappearing evidence also means it’s easy for a cyberbully to deny their actions. 

If a victim responds, their bully might screenshot or record the response and share it to other social media platforms as a way to escalate the bullying. 

How to help if your child is cyberbullied on social media

Here are some actions you can take if your child is the victim of cyberbullying. For additional tips on what to do if your child is being cyberbullied, including tips on documenting the situation, conversation starters, and what to do if your child witnesses cyberbullying, check out our comprehensive guide

Help them block and report 

Blocking the bully is a quick way to end the behavior and give your child a break from the bullying. Social media platforms also have mechanisms for reporting cyberbullying, which can lead to a user being temporarily or permanently banned. 

Provide emotional support 

Listening to your child with empathy and without judgment or blame is one of the most important things you can do to support them when they’re being cyberbullied. 

Know when to escalate

Cyberbullying can range from hurtful to dangerous. Sometimes, blocking a bully and letting your child cry on your shoulder isn’t enough. If you feel the situation is getting out of hand, it may be time to take additional steps, like contacting the authorities, alerting the school, or seeking counseling for your child. 

In short

Many teens and tweens face instances of cyberbullying. Social media presents unique avenues for cyberbullying that parents should know and be prepared to help their children address.