Cyberbullying: Bullying Evolved


Many of the topics we’ve discussed over the past few months have been focused on understanding issues that are unique to a digital generation.  These issues are not new though.  They are merely evolved versions of previous problems.  New devices, widespread internet access, and social networks have been the catalyst for taking the monsters of the past and turning them into new, scarier monsters.  Bullying is a fantastic example of an ever-evolving problem.

Bullies have been around since the dark ages, long before iPhones, Instagram, and the social networks that serve as a connection to a global audience.  Growing up as an 80s kids, a bully was personified by “Biff Tannen” in the Back to the Future franchise.     Biff was the definition of a bully come to life on the big screen.  He was physically intimidating with a big attitude and a little brain.   He used his size to force his will upon his victims.  Those who refused faced the consequences, such as physical violence, being stuffed in a locker, etc.   

The bullying of the 80s could be compared to a snake in the grass.  Simply avoid the snake, and in most cases, you’re safe.   Modern bullying, specifically cyberbullying, should be compared to Medusa.  Cyberbullying is like multiple snakes coming at the victim from a variety of directions.  

Some Stats to Consider

The Cyberbullying Research center posted the results of a study on bullying among teens ages 12-17.   You can read the full report here.  There are a few highlights I wanted to share:

  • 11.5% admitted to participating in cyberbullying.  8.1% of respondents reported in engaging in multiple acts of cyberbullying in the last 30 days.   
  • The two highest reported forms of cyberbullying were posting mean comments or spreading rumors online.  Hurtful or mean comments, including those with race or sexual overtones, accounted for 50% of the cyberbullying taking place.
  • 83% of the students who reported being bullied online also experienced bullying at school.  

I believe parents see a clear separation between cyberbullying and the idea of traditional bullying.  The data indicates the opposite.  Students who are being bullied online are also being bullied in the real world too.   That shouldn’t be a surprise though.  Generation Z doesn’t see a difference between the virtual and physical world.  The bullies of Generation Z apparently don’t see a difference, so why do we?   In my opinion, we observe a separation in the two because modern bullying doesn’t fit the stereotypical idea we developed growing up.

Why is bullying so different in a digital age? defines cyberbullying as  “to bully online by sending or posting mean, hurtful, or intimidating messages, usually anonymously”.   I do not believe this captures all of the intricacies attached to this problem.   Here are aspects of cyberbullying that differ from traditional bullying.

  • Non-Traditional Bullies – Historically, it seems as if kids who were deemed bullies did the bullying.  Technology has provided an avenue for bullying for students who are not typically bullies.   Depending on the website or the app, kids can hide behind anonymity when making remarks.  This anonymity makes it easier for good kids to make bad choices.  
  • Group Mentality – Sites often allow users to see every comment posted by other users.  A running list of rude or mean remarks may cause kids to “jump on the bandwagon”, especially when the comments are anonymous.
  • Drive by MissilesTeens understand that they are fighting to be heard through all the noise online from so many other influences.  The post needs to be loud enough to grab everyone’s attention, not just the attention of the victim.  To have the best impact, comments are typically short in length but pack a mighty punch.
  • Nowhere to hide – Once something is posted online, the person who posted it is essentially giving up their ability to hide from reactions to the post.  It’s out there for the world to see.
  • Asking for it –  One of the craziest parts of cyberbullying is that, in some instances, kids are asking for it.  Apps like Savannah, actually encourage users to provide unfiltered feedback. The hashtag #tbh indicates the user is looking for an honest evaluation on Instagram.  Teens even post videos on YouTube asking the world if they are attractive.  Many of those examples allow anyone to respond, sometimes anonymously.  Those raw, unfiltered comments can be difficult to swallow at times for an adult, let alone someone who doesn’t have the mental maturity to handle them.

Why does it matter to kids so much?

Kids are jerks to each other online.  Ignore those idiots and move on, right?  It’s not that simple.  It can be hard to ignore online remarks, even as a grown adult.  How many Facebook battles have you seen among adults over the most trivial of topics?  Adolescents are still developing the maturity needed to deal with issues like this.  

Now, take that lack of maturity and couple it with the copious amounts of time teens spend taking photos and choosing the perfect image to post.  When that post becomes the target of bullying, it’s crushing to self-esteem.  They are projecting the best version of themselves, and someone chooses to publically tear that image apart with a few short, razor-sharp words for all to see.   It’s not a secret, behind the back whisper by a locker.  It’s the equivalent of spray painting that whisper across all the lockers in all the hallways.

What can parents/teachers do to help a victim of cyberbullying?

Every situation of cyberbullying is unique.  The most common advice is to encourage your child to talk to a friend or a trusted adult about the situation.  

  • Don’t Retaliate – Similar to online trolls; bullies are looking to get a reaction.  Don’t give them the satisfaction by responding to their attack (no matter how good your reply may be).  
  • Document Then Delete – Save a screenshot that shows the date, time, and name of the person who posted the inappropriate message before removing the content.   You may need this as evidence if the bullying continues.
  • Block ‘Em – Remove the person from seeing your child’s posts.   Sites often allow users the ability to control what people can view.  Change the settings to limit who can see posts.  Parents may want to consider reporting the offender to the site’s support team for violating terms of service.  Inappropriate comments, harassment, and vulgar language may result in a user being removed from a website or app.
  • Teach Them – Encourage your kids to engage in responsible behavior online.  Help them to understand how damaging hurtful comments can be.

Common Sense Media has curated some excellent resources to help parents at home and educators in the classroom:

Additional Resources


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