What is cyberbullying?

Guide to online bullying for parents

Unlike bullying offline, cyberbullying can follow a victim wherever they go — through social media networks, video game platforms and over messaging.

Learn more about cyberbullying to help keep children safe online.

What is cyberbullying? Learn about the issue to keep kids safe online
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The internet and social media have changed the way children experience bullying

Now, Bullying can happen beyond the school gates,

Anywhere and anytime, in the form of cyberbullying - on social, gaming and instant messaging platforms

With the help of the Anti-bullying Alliance and industry experts, we've created a hub of advice for parents to support children on how to deal with the issue.
Here are five things you need to know about cyberbullying...One, Cyberbullying can take place 24/7 and happens repeatedly on a range of apps, games, and devices
Two, as its digital it can reach more people than traditional forms of bullying and increase the chance that others will join in the bullying.
Three, Unlike face to face bullying, children can't see the impact of their words so even children who've never been involved in bullying can post or share something without thinking.
Online safety advice for parents | 5 things you need to know about Cyberbullying
Four, although it's easy to keep the evidence, it can be anonymous so it’s harder to know who's behind it.
Five, according recent stats it's growing and can consist of a range of actions from harassment and threats to exclusion, defamation and manipulation.

So, it's important to take it seriously and give children the tools to deal with it
The best way to keep your child safe online is to take an active interest in their digital life from the start
Have regular conversations about what they do online to build trust and understanding of what they are experiencing.
Help them understand that their behaviour online should reflect what they do in the real world and how
Talk about the potential consequences of what they say and do online, along with the ‘stickiness’ of the web making it hard to remove things they share.

Last but not least, make them aware of privacy settings and reporting functions on the platforms they use to help them manage what they see, do and share online.
Putting all these tips into action will help make safer choices online but when things go wrong there are things you can do to help.
Whether your child is being cyberbullied is involved in the bullying, it's important to stay calm and offer your support.

Be led by your child on actions to take to address the situation
Encourage them to continue talking and be ready to listen and take action where necessary.
Don't take away their devices unless this is what they want, as it may make them feel isolated
Whether you are reporting to a school, the police or an online platform, be sure to find out how these organisations can help you and your child resolve the situation with advice in our hub.
Dealing with cyberbullying is challenging but with the right support a child can recover and continue to build the skills to make smarter choices online.
Here are three things to take remember to support a child on cyberbullying:
• One - Be involved and have regular conversations about their online activity
• Two - Give them the tools to be prepared to deal with things they may face online
• Three - Be aware of where and how to seek help to get the right level of support

4 quick things to know about cyberbullying

What forms can cyberbullying take?

Cyberbullying can happen via text, email and on social networks and gaming platforms. It can consist of:

  • Threats and intimidation
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Defamation
  • Rejection and exclusion
  • Identify theft, hacking into social media accounts and impersonation
  • Publically posting or sending on personal information about another person
  • Manipulation

What impact can cyberbullying have on young people?

According to UNICEF, cyberbullying can dramatically impact the mental health of young people. The effects can last a long time and affect a young person in many ways.

How is cyberbullying different from face-to-face bullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over the internet. This can be across social networks or through direct messages.

Cyberbullying is on the rise

Ofcom’s children and parents media use report shows that 84% of 8-17s say they have been bullied on social media, through text message and on other online platforms, compared to 61% face-to-face.

10 things to know about cyberbullying

Download this PDF to share with other parents and carers.


Learn about cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the repetitive and intentional hurting of a person or group of people that happens online. Learn more about the issue below.

How does cyberbullying differ to face-to-face bullying?

One of the biggest differences between cyberbullying and face-to-face bullying is that cyberbullying is often hard to get away from. Young people can be bullied anywhere, anytime – even when they’re at home. Additionally:

  • It can reach a vast audience in a matter of seconds.
  • ‘Repetition’ is taken to a different level, with bullies sharing hurtful comments and images multiple times.
  • Cyberbullying can impact children at any time of day or night.
  • It can offer a degree of anonymity to the perpetrator.
  • It’s difficult to police and to punish.
  • There is often some form of evidence (e.g. screenshot, text message).

What impact can cyberbullying have on a child? 

Cyberbullying can have a huge impact on a young person and it can affect them in different ways, including:

  • Mentally – feeling upset, embarrassed, stupid, even afraid or angry
  • Emotionally – feeling ashamed or losing interest in the things they love
  • Physically – tired (loss of sleep), or experiencing symptoms like stomach aches and headaches

As well as this, it can spark feelings of fear for young people. Our 2023 survey found that 77% of children that experienced online abuse found it ‘scary’.

Child Trauma Psychotherapist Catherine Knibbs also highlights the feelings a child might experience or behaviour they might show as a cyberbully:


Embarrassment is about looking like a ‘fool’ to others but having the resilience to ‘laugh it off’. Neuroscientifically, it’s something you can recover from pretty quickly.

In your child, you might notice their embarrassment by the shyness they show when trying to discuss cyberbullying. They might say ‘you’ll laugh at me’ or something similar. However, there’s still that willingness to talk about it.

How to support your child

You can help your child by explaining that sometimes we feel silly, but that feeling will pass. If we’ve done something silly (like name-calling to join in with others/peers), realising our mistake and apologising can help repair relationships.

You can ‘normalise’ this behaviour if it is accidental and not intended to be vicious. Think about how we laugh at some TV programmes that show silly human behaviour. However, it’s important to highlight that intentional hurtful behaviour is very different.


Guilt is a feeling that a cyberbully is more likely to carry as they recognise they ‘did something bad’.

Quite often. children will stay quiet and secretive, avoiding you. They might say things like ‘you’ll ground me’, ‘you’ll get mad’, ‘you’ll take away my phone’ or similar words, because they expect that you will punish them for the act of doing something bad.

How to support your child

We can help our children here by explaining that they made a bad choice, that the choice has consequences and that the choice they made has affected another person. This allows for a resilient feeling of being able to ‘make up for the bad choice’, which in brain terms is a healthy response to building a more compassionate child for the future.

Quite often in my therapy room, I ask parents not to reflect too much on the aspect of ‘pointing out the victims’ feelings too much’ as this adds to the feeling of both guilt and shame.


Both victim and cyberbully can encounter shame, which often displays as ‘I am bad’. This is usually easier to spot by behaviours and words that reflect a lack of self-esteem or self-worth. Children experiencing feelings of shame might say things like ‘nobody likes me’, ‘I’m no good’ and ‘you’ll hate me’. These children are suffering both emotionally and physically.

In a state of shame, the body begins to produce chemicals that are not helpful for brain development, empathy and compassion. The child begins to withdraw inwards or act outwardly, such as through aggression.

How to support your child

We can help our children here, not by over-praising them, but by connecting with them. Reflecting to them that we know what shame feels like (most of us do!) and how difficult it is can help them feel less alone. This can also reduce the likelihood that they will act out in those aggressive or otherwise harmful ways.

Cyberbullying facts and statistics

According to Ofcom, 84% of 8-17s say they have been bullied on social media, through text message and on other online platforms, compared to 61% face-to-face.

70% of parents worry about online trolling or abuse from strangers, and 66% are concerned about their child being harassed by other children online.

Our research shows that 71% of parents worry about their child experiencing online bullying by someone they know.

Despite issues faced online, 55% of children aged 9-16 say that using the internet has a positive impact on their wellbeing.

What are the signs my child might be experiencing cyberbullying?

Your child might be reluctant to tell you that they are worried about cyberbullying. So it’s important to look out for the signs. These could include:

  • ignoring electronic devices suddenly or unexpectedly;
  • any changes in general behaviour such as becoming withdrawn, angry or lashing out;
  • nerves around their devices.

Other signs include a reluctance to go to school or take part in usual social activities, unexplained stomach upsets and avoidance when talking about the internet.

The difference between cyberbullying and abuse

Some extreme forms of cyberbullying go beyond bullying. Child-on-child abuse, ‘sextortion’ (also known as child sexual exploitation) and harassment have elements of bullying, but they can cause more harm. While there are no laws that prevent bullying, cyber or otherwise, there are laws to protect children from abuse or harassment and you can contact the police.

Child-on-child abuse

Child-on-child abuse is abusive behaviour that ranges from sexting to grooming between those under 18.


Online hate

Online hate is language or actions that target a characteristic of a person or group of people in the digital space.


Child sexual coercion

Child sexual exploitation is sometimes called 'sextortion'. It refers to extorting sexual images from children.


Cyberbullying terms and definitions

Online bullying can take many shapes but not all forms are easy to understand. Explore the different types of cyberbullying and bullying behaviours by selecting a word below.


to intentionally make a person angry by saying or doing things to annoy them


stealing someone’s profile or setting up fake profiles to lure people into starting online relationships


sending repeated and frequent messages that include real threats of physical harm


sending or posting information that’s intended to damage someone’s reputation


deliberately excluding someone from online conversations, games and activities


sending angry and abusive online messages to intentionally provoke someone into starting an argument


logging into someone else’s account, impersonating them or posting inappropriate content in their name


abusing and angering people through online gaming


targeting an individual or group with persistent and offensive messages which could develop into cyberstalking


publicly sharing personal, private or embarrassing information, photos or videos about someone online


ganging up on an individual online and sending offensive abuse until the victim is seen to ‘crack’


deliberately posting provocative and insulting messages about sensitive subjects or inflicting racism or misogyny on an individual

Resources to learn about cyberbullying

Use the following resources to teach children about cyberbullying to help the recognise when it happens.

Get support with your child's safety

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