What to do
when your teen
is cyberbullied

Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Technology has created additional opportunities for kids to connect and have fun, but also to be hurtful to each other in a variety of ways, and has made interpersonal peer conflict even more challenging for families to deal with. This is complicated by the reality that youth are often hesitant to confide in adults when they face problems with peers. In addition, the ever-changing apps, platforms, or technology involved may overwhelm caregivers. But cyberbullying is less a technological issue than a relationship issue, and parents have a lot to offer to help, even if they don’t know much about the latest app. Below, we discuss some strategies to utilize when your teen is the target of online cruelty.

Make sure your teen is safe

The safety and well-being of your teen is always the foremost priority. How can you help them feel supported, heard, and encouraged? It is essential to convey unconditional support because they likely are in a very vulnerable state. Demonstrate through words and actions that you both desire the same end result: stopping the cyberbullying and ensuring it does not happen again. This can be accomplished by working together to arrive at a mutually agreed-upon course of action. It is so critical not to be dismissive of their perspective, but to validate their voice and perspective; this actually can help in the healing and recovery process. Targets of cyberbullying must know with certainty that the adults who they tell will intervene rationally and logically, and not make the situation worse. Reassure them that you are on their side and will partner with them to make things better.

Gather evidence

Collect as much information as you can about what happened and who was involved. In many cases your teen will know (or at least think they know) who is doing the bullying, even if it is in an anonymous environment or involving an unfamiliar screenname. Often the mistreatment is connected to something going on at school. If so, contact an administrator there with your concerns and make sure an incident report and investigation is initiated in line with the requirements of school policy. Make screenshots or screen recordings of conversations, messages, pictures, videos, and any other items which can serve as proof that your teen is being cyberbullied, and submit them as evidence. Keep a record of all incidents to assist in the investigative process. Also, keep notes on relevant details like when and where the incident occurred (at school, on specific apps), as well as who was involved (as aggressors or witnesses).

Report to the site or app

Cyberbullying violates the Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines of many legitimate service providers (e.g., websites, apps, gaming networks). Regardless of whether your teen can identify who is harassing them, contact the platform involved. Once reported, the abusive content should be removed very quickly. Be aware that most sites and apps allow for anonymous reporting and do not disclose the identity of who made a report.

Take some time to understand the relevant Terms of Service and/or Community Guidelines so you know the category under which to report the content. Be aware that it is unlikely that the site or app will disclose account information to you without law enforcement involvement, so if the situation rises to a level where someone’s safety is threatened, it might be necessary to get the police involved. If your local department is not helpful, contact county or state law enforcement officials, as they often have more resources and expertise in technology-related offenses.

Tips for Responding When Your Teen is Cyberbullied

  • Find out exactly what happened, and understand the context
  • Make sure your teen is safe
  • Collect evidence and reach out to the school or police if necessary
  • Report abusive content and block the aggressor within the platform

Should you contact the parent of the teen doing the cyberbullying?

This can be a very tricky proposition. In theory, this seems like a good approach and for many parents can be an effective strategy. Your teen, though, may be terrified by the prospects of this idea. They often believe that confronting the parents of the one doing the bullying will only make matters worse. And it certainly can if the conversation is not approached delicately. The problem is that some parents confronted with accusations that their teen is cyberbullying others may become defensive or dismissive, and accordingly may not be receptive to your description of events. They might become disagreeable and combative. As a parent considering whether to have this conversation, first carefully weigh how well you know the aggressor’s parents, and evaluate your beliefs about how they will respond.