Boy wearing hoodie in dark room using mobile device
No one should be bullied on or offline

Cyberbullying can be tough and scary for adults, especially if your kid is a victim of cyberbullying or may be victimizing someone else. As adults, we don't always know where to turn. You may be frustrated, but there is help. Cyberbullying can look different to different people. Kids may not even call it cyberbullying, and use words like 'drama' to describe what they are experiencing. Talk with them in their own terms and on their level. That way, you can better understand what is taking place, if it is cyberbullying, and what steps to take next. 

In some instances, cyberbullying is against the law, and can result in criminal charges against the perpetrator of the bullying, something many adults and kids may not know. 

What does cyberbullying look like?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police defines cyberbullying as using the internet, social networking sites, websites, mails, texting, instant messaging, and other means of electronic communication to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Some examples include:

  • sending mean and threatening texts, emails, or instant messages;
  • posting embarrassing pictures of someone online; and
  • creating a group, website, or chat with the intent of making fun of others. 

Every case of cyberbullying is different and is as individual as the person involved. Youth of all ages and backgrounds can experience cyberbullying. Some kids, though, can be more vulnerable and experience bias-based bullying. This can include youth of ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, kids with special needs or learning disabilities, and 2SLGBTQ+ youth. 

Discussing why and how cyberbullying happens and its impacts can help your kid feel safe in confiding with you or another trusted adult if they are being bullied. Opening up the lines of communication in a safe and non-judgmental way can also help kids to better understand that their actions online could be hurting others. Let them know you are there to support them; that they can come to you without judgment or fear; and that you are there to listen and help. 

What can be the impacts of cyberbullying?

People who are cyberbullied can react in different ways, and no two reactions are the same. Some people can feel alone, isolated, depressed, act out, or feel alone. There is help. Let them know you are there for them. 

How can I help?

There are some things you can do and some advice you can share with your child that may help, including:

  • Let them know it is not their fault. No one deserve to be treated cruelly. 
  • Don't respond or retaliate. Sometimes a response is what the bully wants, and retaliating turns you into a bully. 
  • Save the evidence. Save text messages, and screen grab mean comments and other online evidence of bullying in case it escalates. 
  • Tell the bully to stop. This may not be something your child feels comfortable doing, and that is OK. 
  • Reach out for help. Tell your child to reach out to someone for help, even if that isn't you. 
  • Use technology to help. Block the person on social media, from texting, and from calling, and report the behaviour to the service. It may not stop the harassment but it won't be in your face. If there are threats of physical harm, report it to police. 
  • Protect your accounts. Don't share passwords
  • If you see bullying, take action. Don't stand by. If a friend is being bullied, talk to them and encourage them to ask for help.

Tips courtesy of ConnectSafely

What if my kid is cyberbullying?A teenage girl looks upset as a group of girls sit behind her, laughing, while looking at device screens

There are many reasons kids cyberbully others. It may give them a sense of power and status, especially when they have an audience of peers who laugh at the bullying. They may be giving into peer pressure and cyberbullying others as a way to fit in or look 'cool'. They may not know that their actions are wrong, and see what they are doing as a joke or harmless fun. 

Some other reasons why kids may cyberbully:

  • Cyberbullying is often a way to relieve boredom, and a way to inject excitement and drama into their lives.
  • They believe the victim deserves it. 
  • They don't feel good about themselves or they are dealing with something in their own lives that is out of their control.
  • They feel a sense of invincibility online, and believe they won't get caught.

Tips courtesy Public Safety Canada

What can I do?

You can also take steps inside the home to stop the cyberbullying, such as monitoring screen time and device use more carefully.

If you believe a youth you know might be cyberbullying, there are steps you can take. Talk with them in a non-judgmental way. Let them know they are safe and that they can share with you or another trusted adult. Talk with them about the impacts of cyberbullying on the victim and the possible consequences for someone who is cyberbullying. Encourage them to share with you why they are cyberbullying others, what other issues could be contributing to their actions, and, together, discuss what you can do to stop it from continuing. 

Educate yourself on social media, including the sites and apps your kid is using. Encourage them to remove hurtful messages, photos, videos, etc.; encourage them to spend less time with friends who may be engaging in cyberbullying; talk with them about apologizing to the person or people they cyberbullied. 

If outside authorities such as the school are involved, encourage cooperation while letting them know you will be there to support them throughout the process. Learn the legal consequences of cyberbullying, and discuss them with your youth. Seek outside professional help. There may be other issues contributing to the cyberbullying that may need to be addressed. 

What not to do if your kid is cyberbullying 

  • Don't 'freak out' on your child. Talk with other adults to work through your anger and hurt.
  • Don't try to deny the situation or find someone to blame. Your child needs you as a guide and role model, and acknowledging the damage they have done is important.
  • Blaming 'those new friends' or 'the kid next door' may have truth, but you need to help your child see their role.
  • If your child was cyberbullying as a reaction to being bullied it doesn't justify their own hurtful actions.
  • Be careful not to assume your child 'could never do something like that'. 

Tips courtesy Public Safety Canada

Recommended resources on Cyberbullying