Cyberbullying: Words do Hurt When it Comes to Social Media

We all know the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” however, as the incidence of cyberbullying grows across the Internet, this may no longer be true. On the Internet, hurtful words can become more visible and more brutal than ever and seen by a lot more people. Cyberbullying can be detrimental to the self-esteem of many children targeted in such a public manner by their peers.

Recently, an anti-bullying organization named Ditch the Label conducted their Annual Cyberbullying Survey. The findings showed that 69% of young people ages 13 to 22 had experienced some form of cyberbullying, 20% of which said that what they experienced was “very extreme.” In the survey, researchers asked participants to rate what they had experienced on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not severe and 10 being extremely severe. On average, kids reported that they had been impacted at about a 7.5 on this scale. Why are we seeing a response on such a high level? First let’s take a look at the landscape.

Kids of today’s generation are “digital natives,” spending a huge chunk of their time on the Internet, having grown up with a keyboard, monitor and web connection. They are more skillful and comfortable than most adults will ever be online. What are they spending all that time on while online? Overwhelmingly, they are interacting on social networking sites. In our recent study, Digital Deception: Exploring the Online Disconnect between Parents and Kids, it was found that 93% of youth (ages 10-17) have at least one social media account, and 86% check those accounts daily. Not surprisingly, social networks are also where the majority of cyberbullying takes place. In the Ditch the Label survey, it was found that Facebook,, and Twitter were the three sites where bullying occurred the most–although Facebook was a clear frontrunner with 54% of reports originating from those using the well-known social networking tool.

Clearly, cyberbullying is pervasive. However, there is a large divide when it comes to what kids are doing on social networking sites and what their parents are aware of when it comes to their kids’ activities. According to the “Digital Deception” study, many parents are unaware of the cyberbullying that their kids are seeing online. In fact, only 10% of parents know that their kids witness cruel behavior online and only 5% of victims’ parents know that their child has been a victim of cyberbullying. Other data pulled form the report showed that:

  • 86% of kids feel social media sites are generally safe while still knowing that sharing personal details online can be dangerous. Yet, more than half of kids have reported negative experiences on social media sites.
  • And more than 50% of kids ages 10-17 still post comments or photos online that would be considered “risky,” while others post sensitive information such as email addresses and phone numbers
  • 48% have looked at online content they know their parents would disapprove of, and 46% said that they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching.
  • More than 50% feel their parents don’t have time to monitor children’s online behavior, while 42% say their parents don’t care what the kids do online.

Even more shockingly, it was found that the kids aren’t all that off-base as 75% of parents said that they do not have the time or energy to keep up with their kids’ online activities, 62% think their kids can’t get in trouble online and only 17% were said to believe that the online world posed similar dangers as the offline world. How can parents protect their children from cyberbullies while remaining in the dark about who their kids are interacting with online, and how they are interacting with those people?

While sometimes it’s difficult to reach out and get our children to share about their lives, both on and offline, it’s imperative to educate our younger generation about online safety. There are a number of steps that parents can take to start the conversation, initiate precautionary measures, and respond in times of crises. First and most important though is to have that conversation and open the lines of communication for children to speak up offline about what they may be seeing online.

  • Talk about the news. Sometimes, it helps to have a real life incident to help you start the conversation and see how your child is feeling about the subject, what they think about it, and perhaps Internet safety in general. By both exposing them to the fact that many people deal with this issue, and opening that dialogue, it can help create a doorway to talk should something happen to your child or a friend.
  • Limit time spent with online devices. Whether your child is using the home desktop, a laptop, tablet or smartphone to access the Internet and/or social networking sites, give hard-stop time limits to their usage. Setting boundaries for social media interactions, and time limits for web activities is a good rule of thumb in general for kids. Some wireless providers will also allow you to block text messaging during certain hours.
  • Use filters and parental controls. Without the proper protection and filtering in place, you could be letting the world into your home through your computer monitor. Set up comprehensive protection for all of your family’s devices —computers and mobile—including safe web searching, risky site alerts, identity protection, time limitations and other parental controls with McAfee LiveSafe™ service.
  • Educate children on appropriate behaviors. Kids need to know that just because you can share something, it doesn’t mean that you should. A moment of poor judgment when it comes to online sharing can haunt you for the rest of your life. Help kids understand what type of content is and is not appropriate to share online and how to setup privacy controls for the information they post to social media sites.
  • Report inappropriate interactions. Facebook,, Instagram, Twitter and the majority of social media sites have systems for blocking and reporting users who are being abusive or inappropriate. These can help keep your child safe, as well as make sure the user behind abusive accounts is held responsible. Visit the help section of each social media site for instructions on how to block or report a user.
  • If targeted, make sure your kids don’t retaliate. Cyberbullying incidents can often get worse if the exchange becomes more involved back and forth. While you don’t need to respond online, there are other ways to fight back. Assist your child in saving and documenting incidents to report to the police or school officials, if applicable. Keeping record is the best thing you can do when making a case against a bully.

Most importantly you can be there for them, when guidance is needed. That requires keeping up to date on the most recent events and issues with social media use and cyberbullying.

Cyberbully infographic


Gary Davis

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