5 Warning Signs Your Child Might Be A Victim Of Cyberbullying

Think your kid might be dealing with online bullying? Here's what to look out for and how to support them.

Virtual learning has given some victims of bullying a reprieve from the daily harassment they faced at school — in the hallways, the cafeteria, the locker room or at recess. For others, the taunting hasn’t stopped; it’s just moved online. 

Cyberbullying may include sending mean-spirited or threatening text messages, posting embarrassing photos or videos of someone online or creating a fake social media account to harass or impersonate the victim, to name a few examples. 

During the pandemic, cyberbullying has also been cropping up on digital school platforms like Google Classroom. Some have noted that requiring students to turn on their cameras during remote learning has highlighted inequities in living situations that could make certain kids targets for bullying. (Students may be living in a home that’s in disrepair, sharing a room with multiple family members or streaming classes from a homeless shelter or a car.)

Wondering if your child might be the victim of cyberbullying? Experts reveal the signs to look out for and how you can support your kid.  

1. There’s a sudden change in the amount of time they spend on their devices.

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Spending a lot more or a lot less time online all of a sudden could be an indicator of cyberbullying.

As a parent, you probably have a sense of how much time your kid typically spends on their devices. So if you notice a significant increase or decrease in screen time, it could be one sign they’re being cyberbullied. 

“If their tech use suddenly increases, they may be tracking what a cyberbully is posting about them online and how their peers are commenting,” Tenille Richardson-Quamina, a therapist who specializes in online bullying, told HuffPost. “If your kid stops using their devices, they may be trying to avoid the online bullying altogether.” 

2. They seem moody or “off” after spending time online. 

The occasional mood swing isn’t out of the ordinary, particularly for a teenager. But if you observe a pattern of edginess after they’ve been on their devices, it could be an indication something’s awry, said Richardson-Quamina. 

“You may expect to see anger, sadness or frustration, but also look for signs like ‘forced happiness’ that may be your kid’s attempt to mask what is really going on,” she said. “When it comes to physical reactions to cyberbullying, look for signs of nervousness, anxiety or jumpiness.”

3. They become more secretive about their technology use. 

That might look like leaving the room to use their phone, X-ing out of tabs when you walk by or avoiding conversations about what they’re doing on the computer.  

According to a Maryville University blog, “If they unexpectedly shut off devices when others approach, refuse to discuss what they do online, or get upset or agitated when you try to discuss this with them, they may be attempting to hide the fact that they are being bullied.”

4. They mention that they’re dealing with “drama.”

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Kids and teens may refer to cyberbullying as "drama," "gossip" or trolling.

If your kid does open up to you, know that they might not call what’s happening to them “cyberbullying.” Instead, they may make a comment about how they’re dealing with gossip, drama or trolling. 

“Terms like cyberstalking, sexploitation, impersonation, denigration, outing or exclusion alert us to the magnitude of what they’re going through, but a kid is probably not going to use any of these terms,” Richardson-Quamina said. “Therefore, it is important for us to be able to ‘speak their language’ when it comes to cyberbullying.”

5. You notice changes to their daily habits — like sleep or eating — and overall demeanor. 

Whether online or in person, bullying can lead to physical and mental health problems, said Bailey Huston, coordinator at PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center

“This can include sleeping problems, low self-esteem, increased fear or anxiety, or feelings of alienation,” she said. 

Frequent stomachaches and headaches are also common.

“You might also see changes in eating habits, avoidance of social situations, frequent meltdowns or increased irritability,” said licensed clinical social worker Katie Hurley, author of “No More Mean Girls.”

Advice For Parents

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Kentaroo Tryman via Getty Images
Our experts do not recommend confiscating your child's devices if they're being cyberbullied.

If your child is being bullied online, your love and support can make a big difference. Here’s how you can help: 

First, listen and empathize. 

“Parents have a tendency to jump into fix-it mode, but it’s important to attend to the emotional needs of your child first,” Hurley said. “Gather information by asking your child to describe what’s happening. Ask your child to show you what’s happening and take screenshots.”

Remind them they’re not alone.

“If your child shares that they are being bullied online, chances are you might be the first person they’ve told,” Huston said.

Cyberbullying can make your kid feel isolated and like they’re the only one being picked on. Reinforce the message that they have people in their life who care about them and are here for them. 

Document the situation.

“One of the unique aspects of cyberbullying is that it leaves behind a trail of evidence documenting the hurt your child has experienced,” Huston said. “Save the URLs, print emails or web pages of negative behavior, screenshot any posts containing bullying and save texts.”

Don’t take away their devices.

One reason many kids don’t come forward about online bullying? They think their parents are going to confiscate their phone or limit their access to social media. Even if you do this with the intention of protecting your kid, to them it feels like a punishment, Richardson-Quamina said. 

“If your child shares a cyberbullying situation with you, don’t take away their technology, but take steps together so that they can still engage online in a safe and supported way,” Huston added. “This will reinforce the message that this is not your child’s fault and encourage them to keep the conversation open about any other negative online behavior.”

Talk to their school. 

Many schools include cyberbullying in their anti-bullying policy, even when the harassment occurs off-campus or outside of school hours, Huston said. Ask the school about its policy, figure out your point of contact and provide documentation you’ve collected. 

Hurley said you should reach out to a teacher or school administrator when your child feels comfortable. 

“Many kids resist seeking help because they fear the bullying will get worse,” she said. “Help your child talk through different scenarios to find the best course of action.” 

Use privacy settings. 

Make use of the safety and privacy features available that may help curb online harassment — like blocking the bully’s email address, phone number or social media profile, Richardson-Quamina said. 

Keep the conversation going.

Take some time each week to check in with your child about how they’re feeling online, in spite of the inevitable eye rolls and sighs, said Richardson-Quamina. Make these discussions ongoing. And remember that they don’t always have to be a downer. 

“Once the plan is in place and the report made, don’t stop talking with your kids about their life online,” she said. “Have them teach you about the newest app, dance challenge or game, because we don’t want to just interact with them when something is wrong.”

Before You Go

Children's Books That Teach Kids About Emotions
"The Way I Feel"(01 of35)
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This rhyming book helps kids connect words and emotions to better express their feelings. (Available here) (credit:Scholastic)
"Listening to My Body"(02 of35)
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"Listening to My Body" helps children name their emotions and figure out the physical sensations they cause. (Available here) (credit:Gabi Garcia Books)
"Today I Feel..."(03 of35)
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This alphabet book guides kids through 26 different emotions and encourages them to think about their own feelings. (Available here) (credit:Abrams)
"B Is for Breathe: The ABCs of Coping with Fussy and Frustrating Feelings"(04 of35)
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"B Is for Breathe" focuses on the different ways kids express their emotions and the coping skills that can help them deal with difficult feelings. (Available here) (credit:Melissa Munro Boyd)
"When Sadness Is at Your Door"(05 of35)
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This book approaches the painful feeling of sadness as if it's a visitor to engage with, rather than something to fear or avoid. (Available here) (credit:Penguin Random House)
"Tough Guys Have Feelings Too"(06 of35)
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This book breaks down harmful messages about emotion and masculinity by reminding children that everyone has feelings, including dads and "tough guys." (Available here) (credit:Penguin Random House)
"The Boy with Big, Big Feelings"(07 of35)
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As the title suggests, "The Boy with Big, Big Feelings" tackles the difficulty of having strong emotions and offers guidance for sensitive children. (Available here) (credit:Beaming Books)
"Ruby Finds a Worry"(08 of35)
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This installment in the "Big Bright Feelings" series addresses the feelings of fear and anxiety, and the value of talking about emotions. (Available here) (credit:Bloomsbury)
"Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day"(09 of35)
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Actor Jamie Lee Curtis wrote this book that goes through kids' ever-changing moods. (Available here) (credit:HarperCollins)
"Angry Octopus"(10 of35)
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This book about a frustrated octopus guides children through ways to identify and manage anger. (Available here) (credit:Stress Free Kids)
"Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions"(11 of35)
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Geared toward toddlers, this board book focuses on five feelings -- happy, sad, angry, surprised, and silly -- and illustrates them with real facial expressions. (Available here) (credit:Abrams)
"How Do You Feel?"(12 of35)
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"How Do You Feel?" highlights major emotions and the kinds of facial expressions and contexts that tend to accompany those feelings. (Available here) (credit:Holiday House)
"The Rough Patch"(13 of35)
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"The Rough Patch" follows a fox who learns to cope with loss and grief after the death of his dog and best friend. (Available here) (credit:HarperCollins)
"All About Feelings"(14 of35)
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This is another book that uses illustrations of facial and body cues to help kids identify their emotions. (Available here) (credit:Usborne)
"When Sophie Gets Angry -- Really, Really Angry…"(15 of35)
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Anger can be a very upsetting emotion for children. This story of a girl experiencing intense feelings offers a road map for coping with anger. (Available here) (credit:Scholastic)
"My Heart"(16 of35)
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This poetic book uses metaphors to show the spectrum of human emotion. (Available here) (credit:Penguin Random House)
"Wemberly Worried"(17 of35)
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"Wemberly Worried" tells the story of a mouse who worries, most notably about the first day of school, and features helpful messages for kids dealing with anxiety. (Available here) (credit:HarperCollins)
"Tiger Days: A Book of Feelings"(18 of35)
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"Tiger Days" uses animals to represent different emotions and help kids learn to express their feelings. (Available here) (credit:Compendium)
"I'm Sad"(19 of35)
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This second installment in Michael Ian Black's "I'm Books" series teaches kids how to cope with sadness. (Available here) (credit:Simon & Schuster)
"The Unbudgeable Curmudgeon"(20 of35)
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This whimsical book covers bad moods and emotional regulation. (Available here) (credit:Knopf)
"La Catrina: Emotions - Emociones"(21 of35)
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This bilingual book teaches children to recognize feelings and name them in English and Spanish. (Available here) (credit:Lil' Libros)
"The Feeling Flower"(22 of35)
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"The Feeling Flower" follows Zippy, a flower dealing with the changing weather and how it affects mood. (Available here) (credit:CreateSpace Publishing)
"Jabari Jumps"(23 of35)
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"Jabari Jumps" is a story about overcoming fears and finding resilience. (Available here) (credit:Candlewick Press)
"There Are No Animals in This Book! (Only Feelings)"(24 of35)
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Contemporary artists contributed to this book that illustrates powerful emotions. (Available here) (credit:powerHouse Books)
"Life Without Nico"(25 of35)
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Friendship, separation and loneliness are big themes in this book, which helps kids learn to express emotions. (Available here) (credit:Kids Can Press)
"The Great Big Book of Feelings"(26 of35)
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Happy. Sad. Silly. Jealous. These are some of the feelings this book explores. (Available here) (credit:Frances Lincoln)
"The Day You Begin"(27 of35)
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"The Day You Begin" captures the feeling of being scared and alone but finding the courage to reach out and connect with others. (Available here) (credit:Penguin Random House)
"Grumpy Monkey"(28 of35)
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"Grumpy Monkey" shows the value of letting kids express all their feelings, even negative ones, rather than suppressing them. (Available here) (credit:Penguin Random House)
"All Kinds of Feelings"(29 of35)
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This lift-the-flap book teaches little kids about people's different emotions and various ways to express them. (Available here) (credit:Tango Books)
"After The Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)"(30 of35)
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"After The Fall" explores what happens after Humpty Dumpty's famous incident and his journey to overcome fear and gain the courage to sit on the wall again. (Available here) (credit:Roaring Brook Press)
"When I'm Feeling Angry"(31 of35)
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"When I'm Feeling Angry" is one book in "The Feelings Series," which covers many different emotions through the experiences of a little white rabbit. (Available here) (credit:Five Mile Press)
"F Is for Feelings"(32 of35)
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This alphabet book equips kids with the vocabulary to express their feelings and get comfortable with the range of emotions people experience. (Available here) (credit:Free Spirit Publishing)
"Sometimes I'm Bombaloo"(33 of35)
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"Sometimes I'm Bombaloo" tells the story of Katie, a girl who loses her temper at times and needs to learn to handle her anger. (Available here) (credit:Scholastic)
"Visiting Feelings"(34 of35)
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This poetic book imagines feelings as visitors and teaches mindfulness to kids in dealing with emotions. (Available here) (credit:Magination Press)
"Just Feel"(35 of35)
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This book from the daughter of Deepak Chopra helps kids learn to understand and navigate their emotions. (Available here) (credit:Running Press Kids)

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