The Rise and Consequences of Cyberbullying

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Cyberbullying is the act of intentionally and consistently mistreating or harassing someone through the use of electronic devices or other forms of electronic communication (like social media platforms). Because cyberbullying mostly affects children and adolescents, many people brush it off as just another part of growing up. But cyberbullying can have dire mental and emotional consequences if left unaddressed.

This article discusses cyberbullying, its negative effects, and what can be done about it.

Lonely teenage girl leaning on metallic locker. Sad female student is standing in corridor. She is at high school.

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Cyberbullying in the Digital Age

The rise of digital communication methods has paved the way for a new type of bullying to form—one that takes place outside of the schoolyard. Cyberbullying tends to follow kids home, which can make it much more difficult to ignore or cope with.


As many as 15% of young people between the ages of 12 and 18 have been cyberbullied at some point in their lives. However, according to the 2021 Cyberbullying Research Center survey, over 25% of children between the ages of 13 and 15 were cyberbullied in 2021 alone.

According to the same survey, 6.2% of people admitted that they’ve engaged in cyberbullying at some point in the last year. The age at which a person is most likely to cyberbully one of their peers is 13.

Those who are subject to online bullying are twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide. The percentage is much higher in young people who identify as LGBTQ, at 56%.

Cyberbullying by Sex and Sexual Orientation

Cyberbullying statistics differ among various groups, including:

  • Girls and boys both reported similar numbers when asked if they have been cyberbullied, at 23.7% and 21.9%, respectively.
  • LGBTQ adolescents report cyberbullying at higher rates, at 31.7%. According to other reports, up to 56% of young people who identify as LGBTQ have experienced cyberbullying.
  • Transgender teens were the most likely to be cyberbullied, at the significantly high rate of 35.4%.

State Laws 

The laws surrounding cyberbullying vary from state to state. However, all 50 states have developed and implemented certain policies or laws that are meant to protect children from being cyberbullied both in the classroom and outside of it.

The laws were put into place so that students who are being cyberbullied at school can have access to support systems, and those who are being cyberbullied at home have a way to report the incidents.

Examples of legal policies or programs developed to help stop cyberbullying include:

  • Bullying prevention programs
  • Cyberbullying education courses for teachers
  • Procedures designed to investigate instances of cyberbullying
  • Support systems for children that have been subject to cyberbullying 

Are There Federal Laws Against Cyberbullying?

There are no federal laws or policies that protect people from cyberbullying. However, federal involvement may occur if the bullying overlaps with harassment. Federal law will get involved if the bullying is centered around a person’s race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, disability, or religion.

Examples of Cyberbullying 

There are several types of bullying that can occur online, and they all look different.


Harassment can include comments, text messages, or threatening emails all designed to make the person being cyberbullied feel scared, embarrassed, or ashamed of themselves.

Other forms of harassment include:

  • Using group chats as a way to gang up on one person
  • Making derogatory comments about a person based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, or other characteristics
  • Posting mean or untrue things on social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, as a way to publicly hurt the person experiencing the cyberbullying 


A person may try to pretend to be the person they are cyberbullying to attempt to embarrass, shame, or hurt them publicly. Some examples of this include:

  • Hacking into someone’s online profile and changing any part of it, whether it be a photo or their "About Me" portion, to something that is either harmful or inappropriate
  • Catfishing, which is when a person creates a fake persona to trick someone into a relationship with them as a joke or for their own personal gain
  • Making a fake profile using the screen name of their target to post inappropriate or rude remarks on other people’s pages

Other Examples

Not all forms of cyberbullying are the same, and there are other tactics used by cyberbullies to ensure that their target feels as bad as possible. Some tactics include:

  • Taking nude or otherwise degrading photos of a person without their consent
  • Sharing or posting nude pictures with a wide audience to embarrass the person they are cyberbullying
  • Sharing personal information about a person on a public website that could cause them to feel unsafe
  • Physically bullying someone in school and getting someone else to record it so that it can be watched and passed around later
  • Circulating rumors about a person

How to Know When a Joke Turns Into Cyberbullying

In many cases, people may try to downplay cyberbullying by saying that it was just a joke. However, any incident that continues to make a person feel shame, hurt, or blatantly disrespected is not a joke and should be addressed. People who engage in cyberbullying tactics know that they’ve crossed these boundaries from being playful to being harmful.

Effects and Consequences 

Research has shown that there are many negative effects of cyberbullying, some of which can lead to severe mental health issues.

As previously mentioned, people who are cyberbullied are twice as likely to experience suicidal thoughts, actions, or behaviors and engage in self-harm as those who are not.

Other negative health consequences of cyberbullying are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach pain and digestive issues
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulties with academics
  • Violent behaviors
  • High levels of stress
  • Inability to feel safe
  • Feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Feelings powerlessness and hopelessness

If You’re on the Receiving End 

Being on the receiving end of cyberbullying is hard to cope with. It can feel as though you have nowhere to turn and there’s no escape.

However, there are things that can be done to help overcome cyberbullying experiences.

Advice for Preteens and Teenagers

The best thing you can do if you’re being cyberbullied is tell an adult that you trust. It may be difficult to start the conversation, because you may feel ashamed or embarrassed. However, if it is not addressed, it can get worse.

Other ways you can cope with cyberbullying include:

  • Walk away: Walking away online involves ignoring the bullies, taking a step back from your computer or phone, and finding something you enjoy doing to distract yourself from the bullying.
  • Don’t retaliate: At the time, you may want to defend yourself. But engaging with the bullies can make matters worse.
  • Keep evidence: Save all copies of the cyberbullying, whether it be posts, texts, or emails, and keep them if the bullying escalates and you need to report them.
  • Report: You can report your bullies, especially if it’s done on social media. Social media sites take harassment seriously, and reporting them to site administrators may have the bully blocked from using the site.
  • Block: You can block your bully from contacting you on social media platforms as well as through text messages.

In some cases, therapy may be a good option to help cope with the aftermath of cyberbullying. To get involved in therapy, you’ll have to discuss what’s going on with a trusted adult.

What If Your Friend Is Cyberbullying?

If you have a friend who is bullying someone else, you should tell them that their actions are not acceptable. Let them know of the serious repercussions that can happen to both themselves and the person they are bullying if it doesn’t stop.

Advice for Parents

As a parent, it can be difficult to watch your child experience cyberbullying. To help in the right ways, you can:

  • Offer support and comfort: Just listening to your child explain what’s happening can be helpful. Also, if you’ve experienced bullying as a child, sharing that experience may provide some perspective on how it can be overcome and that the feelings don't last forever.
  • Make sure they know they are not at fault: Whatever the bully uses to target your child can make them feel as though there's something wrong with them. Offer praise to your child for speaking up and reassure them that it's not their fault. The actions of their bullies speak more about the bully's character than it does your child's.
  • Contact the school: Schools have policies in place to protect children from bullying, but for that to help, you have to inform school officials.
  • Keep records: Ask your child for all the records of the bullying and keep a copy for yourself. This evidence will be helpful to have if the bullying escalates and further action needs to be taken.
  • Try to get them help: In many cases, cyberbullying can lead to mental stress and sometimes mental health disorders. Getting your child a therapist gives them a safe place to work through their experience.

Should You Limit Your Child's Time Online?

Taking away your child’s phone or computer after they have been cyberbullied can make them feel as though they’re being punished. You want to avoid this or have a conversation with your child about agreeing to a certain time limit so that they are not pulled in every time they receive a hurtful message or post.

In the Workplace 

Although cyberbullying more often affects children and adolescents, it can also happen to adults in the workplace.

If you are dealing with cyberbullying at your workplace, you can:

  • Speak to your bully directly and let them know how what they said affected you and that you expect it to stop.
  • Keep copies of any and all harassment that goes on in the workplace.
  • Report your cyberbully to your human resources (HR) department.
  • Report your cyberbully to law enforcement if you are being threatened.
  • Close off all personal communication pathways with your cyberbully.
  • Maintain a professional attitude at work regardless of what is being said or done.
  • Seek out support through friends, family, or professional help.

How to Take the High Road

Taking the high road may seem difficult, but it is the best thing you can do to protect yourself at your place of employment. You can do this by calmly addressing the bully or ignoring them. If the harassment continues, you will have to take your complaints to your boss or your HR department.

Effective Action Against Cyberbullying

If cyberbullying continues, actions will have to be taken to get it to stop.

Talk to a School Official

Talking to someone at school may be difficult at first, but once you do, you may be grateful that you finally have some support. Remember you are not alone. Schools have policies in place to address cyberbullying so you don’t have to go through it anymore.

Confide in Parents or Trusted Friends 

In some cases, simply talking to your parents or other people you trust about your experience can make it easier to cope with. Having support on your side will make you feel less alone.

Report It on Social Media 

Social media sites have strict rules on the types of interactions and content sharing that is allowed.

If you are being cyberbullied on a social media platform, such as Facebook or Instagram, reporting your aggressor to the site can get them banned. This will eliminate your bully’s ability to contact you.

Block the Bully 

Phones, computers, and social media platforms all contain options to block correspondence from others. Use these blocking tools to help free yourself from cyberbullying.

Other Ways to Get Involved 

Cyberbullying happens all the time, and many people experience harmful consequences because of it. If you are being cyberbullied, or have watched someone be cyberbullied, the best thing you can do is stand up for yourself or other people.

Being an advocate will not only let the bully know that what they’re doing is wrong and won’t be tolerated, it also tells the person who is subject to the bullying that they are not alone.

When you stand up for what you believe in, it takes power away from the bully. This could lead to them stopping their harmful actions.

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts, dial 988 to contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect with a trained counselor. To find mental health resources in your area, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-4357 for information.


Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place over electronic communication methods, such as cellphones, computers, social media, and other online platforms. While anyone can be subject to cyberbullying, it is most likely to occur between the ages of 12 and 18.

Cyberbullying can be severe and lead to serious health issues, such as new or worsened mental health disorders, sleep issues, or thoughts of suicide or self-harm. There are laws in place to prevent cyberbullying from occurring, so it's important to report it when it happens. It might be scary at first, but telling someone is the best way to stop it.

Other tips on coping with cyberbullying include stepping away from your electronics, blocking bullies, and getting support for any issues that may have been caused due to cyberbullying.

A Word From Verywell

Cyberbullying is hard to live with, because it doesn’t stay within the confines of the classroom. It follows you everywhere you go. That being said, being bullied by a peer online says a lot more about them than it does about you.

While it can be hard to accept, you have nothing to be ashamed of because you are being cyberbullied. Speak to your school, a parent or caregiver, or even a close friend about what’s going on. Having a support system can make it easier to deal with and find the help you need to make the bullying stop.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is cyberbullying considered harassment?

    While cyberbullying is not in and of itself considered harassment, a type of cyberbullying does fall under that category. Examples of cyberbullying that are considered harassment include using a group chat to gang up on one person to say mean and hurtful things or posting hurtful comments on a person’s page consistently to shame or embarrass them.

  • Does cyberbullying increase someone’s risk for suicidal thoughts?

    Cyberbullying has many health consequences that can negatively affect a person’s mental state. Research has found that people who are cyberbullied are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts. They are also twice as likely to practice self-harming behaviors.

  • What are the benefits of doing a social media detox?

    There are many benefits involved in taking a break from social media. Some of the most beneficial include:

    • Building better and more meaningful in-person relationships
    • Improved mental health
    • Increase in productivity
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angelica Bottaro
Angelica Bottaro is a professional freelance writer with over 5 years of experience. She has been educated in both psychology and journalism, and her dual education has given her the research and writing skills needed to deliver sound and engaging content in the health space.