Teens and Social Media: Cyberbullying

  • Sad Young Man with Tablet


noun — defined as, “The use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.”

The stats are alarming. Nearly 43% of all teens have been victims of cyberbullying; 1 in 4 of those kids has been victimized more than once.

Cyberbullying is different than other forms of bullying. Kids can’t escape it. It’s a 24×7 attack. It follows them home via their mobile device or computer. It’s viral nature allows the online abuse to be spread to hundreds, even thousands, of others in a short period of time, making the bullying virtually inescapable for a child.

Detective Alex Petty of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department in my home state of Indiana offered insight into the ever-growing cyberbullying phenomenon at a community forum about Teens and Social Media.

What is cyberbullying?

Detective Petty shared there are essentially two types of bullying:

    • Direct which involves physical (e.g., hitting, kicking, stealing or making someone do something they don’t want to do) or verbal (e.g., name calling, insulting, making threats) aggression.
    • Indirect involves relationship bullying, such as gossiping or spreading rumors and lies about someone. It can also make victims feel left-out or maliciously rejected.

Victims of cyberbullying fall prey to not just one bully, but many, as information spreads via social media, email, chats and other forms of electronic communication.

The danger with cyberbullying is that it combines both direct and indirect forms of bullying. Not only can someone be verbally abused via name calling, photo sharing, insults or threats, but relationship bullying also plays a key role in spreading information about the victim that reaches a wide audience through digital means. As a result, victims of cyberbullying then fall prey to not just one bully, but many, as information spreads via social media, email, chats and other forms of electronic communication.

Using a cyberbullying approach, sexual offenders can also disseminate information and/or pictures of their victims through that child’s personal social networking site — this happens in 26% of online sex crimes against minors. (Journal of Adolescent Health)

Signs A Child Is Being Cyberbullied

There are a variety of red flags which could indicate a child is a victim of cyberbullying:

    • Decreased computer or cell phone usage
    • Nervous behavior when receiving a text, email or chat
    • Uneasiness about attending school
    • Withdrawal from family and friends
    • Increased health problems
    • Use of alcohol or drugs
    • Drop in grades

While none of these signs in and of themselves equate to a child being cyberbullied, they can be strong indicators that something isn’t right in the child’s world. Parents, as with everything else regarding your child, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what is happening with them while they are online. Pay attention. Ask questions. Involve yourself in their online world.

Signs A Child Is A Cyberbully

So, who are cyberbullies? They come in all shapes and sizes, but do share some similar traits. Cyberbullies…

    • Enjoy feelings of power and control
    • Enjoy inflicting physical or emotional pain on others
    • Can be below average, average or above average students
    • Lack compassion and empathy for their targeted victims
    • Are often victims of bullying or another type of abuse themselves

A 2010 study found that girls are more likely to cyberbully than boys and tend to gossip and spread rumors online, while boys are more apt to post harmful photos or videos of targeted victims.

Behaviors to watch for that may indicate a child is a cyberbully can include:

      • Quickly changing screens or closing programs when others approach
      • Using the computer or cell phone at all hours of the day and night
      • Getting unusually upset when computer usage is restricted or revolked
      • Laughing excessively while online
      • Avoiding discussions about what he/she is doing
      • Using multiple online accounts
      • Demonstrating high levels of social anxiety

 3 Steps to Stop Bullying

Detective Petty encourages parents to empower their children to intervene if they know another child is being bullied or cyberbullied.

“The bystander effect is more powerful than you can imagine,” Detective Petty shared. “Empowering kids to stand up for others can often stop bullies in their tracks.”

He added there are 3 steps parents and kids can take together to help stop bullying and cyberbullying:

    1. Don’t be a ‘bystander’ and just ‘watch’ — stand-up for the person who is being bullied or cyberbullied.
    1. Tell a trusted adult about the bullying — share exactly what you have seen, read or heard, regardless of whether that bullying is directed at you or someone else. (Parents, be aware: only 1 in 10 victims will tell anyone they are being bullied.)
    1. Contact the school or local law enforcement to report the bullying.

“If we catch it as soon as it begins and are able to intervene, the chances of it spiraling out of control are greatly minimized,” stated Detective Petty. “Often, a friendly visit to a bully or cyberbully by a police officer is enough to make them rethink their actions and behavior.”

“If we catch it as soon as it begins and are able to intervene, the chances of it spiraling out of control are greatly minimized.” ~Detective Alex Petty

Cyberbullying Facts

DoSomething.org shares these 11 facts about Cyberbullying:

    1. Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
    1. 70% of students report seeing frequent bullying online. Filling up your friends’ Facebook feeds with positive posts instead of negative ones can boost school-wide morale. Start a Facebook page for students to submit positive acts they see in school to promote a culture of positivity on and offline. Sign up for Positivity Page.
    1. Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyber bullying.
    1. 68% of teens agree that cyber bullying is a serious problem.
    1. 81% of young people think bullying online is easier to get away with than bullying in person
    1. 90% of teens who have seen social media bullying say they have ignored it. 84% have seen others tell cyber bullies to stop.
    1. Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse.
    1. Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
    1. About 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.
    1. Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.
    1. About 75% of students admit they have visited a website bashing another student.

Parents, in a nutshell…

    1. Know what your child is doing online.
    1. Talk with your child about what to do if they know of someone being cyberbullied (or bullied).
    1. Take action! Help your child report bullying activity of any kind to school officials or local law enforcement.


Hamilton County Sheriff Mark Bowen, along with Detective Alex Petty, for allowing me to share valuable information from their “Teens & Social Media” community presentation held in Noblesville, IN in March, 2014.  About cyberbullying and social media issues, Sheriff Bowen said, “It’s happening all over the country each and every day. We felt it’s important to get the word out so people understand the gravity of these issues and the consequences can sometimes lead to a situation where somebody takes their life as a result. The biggest thing is education on the front end to make sure they’re taking the necessary steps to protect themselves and not put themselves in that position. But, even if they do, it’s not the end of the world and life goes on… there are ways we can help them to deal and cope with it.”


About Alex


Detective Alex Petty is a veteran investigator in crimes against children. A former Hanover College football player and now law enforcement officer for 23 years, Alex has been with the Hamilton Co. Sheriff’s Department since 1996 where he started in Sheriff’s court security, moved to the patrol division and was then promoted to detective in 2006. Alex holds several professional designations including that of certified drug recognition expert and instructor, crisis negotiator, and instructor for Child First/Finding Words child forensic interview training in Indiana.  A loving husband and proud father of four fabulous kids aged 17 to 10, Alex coaches football and basketball in his spare time. Ever since he was a little boy, Alex wanted to be an investigator. “I come from a single parent home, so I know what it’s like for the single mom and dad,” he shared. “Kids are forced to adapt to ever-changing societal influences; some good, some bad. I want parents to know that if they communicate with their kids, take charge and do their part to show kids a healthy way to live, they really can strengthen family relationships.” Have a question for Alex? Contact him at (317) 733-1282 or [email protected].


About Ginger


Raising awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse has become Ginger’s life mission. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has released a report for parents and other caring adults, “10 Scary Apps.” Ginger can be contacted via her website, “Ginger Kadlec: BeAKidsHero™” at BeAKidsHero.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.

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