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The Effects of Cyberbullying (And How To Protect Your Children)

The effects of cyberbullying can be hard to spot. But it’s crucial that parents know the warning signs to keep their kids safe online.

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      How Badly Can Cyberbullying Affect Your Kids? 

      While any form of bullying can be disastrous for children, cyberbullying has become more prevalent, harder to stop, and often even more damaging than in-person bullying. 

      Even without the immediate threat of physical harm, the effects of cyberbullying can range from embarrassment, frustration, and anxiety, to physical illness, depression, and even suicide. 

      According to the Cyberbullying Research Center [*]:

      Cyberbullying is on the rise, as 46% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have been victims online — often multiple times. 

      As a parent, your instinct is to protect your children from harm. Yet, cyberbullying takes place over messaging apps — or is hidden in the shadows on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook — where you might not be able to see it or stop it from happening. 

      In this guide, we’ll discuss the effects of cyberbullying and explore the warning signs you need to watch for so that you can keep your kids safe.

      {{show-toc}}

      What Is Cyberbullying? Why Is It So Damaging for Kids?

      Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses digital communication mediums to harass, threaten, or humiliate others — usually a child or teen. Some cyberbullying tactics include abusing victims through online gaming chats, sending threatening text messages, or posting embarrassing rumors on social media.

      When people experience cyberbullying, they often feel ashamed or afraid. As a result, many children and young adults don't always seek help because they don't want to be cast as outsiders. They may also fear further retaliation if they go to teachers or parents.

      This form of bullying can be more insidious than traditional bullying because it usually happens through digital mediums rather than in person. The online dynamic impacts kids in many ways:

      • Cyberbullying doesn’t end when kids come home. With the prevalence of modern technology, bullies can target people online, so victims can’t even escape their bullies when they go home.
      • Kids don’t have a means to defend themselves. Victims may not have any effective ways to reply to or shut down bullies. Getting negative or hurtful posts taken down from social media sites can be a tricky, long-winded process.
      • Bullies have nearly unlimited ways to attack their victims online. Cyberbullying occurs on countless platforms, including via text messages, gaming, forums, social media, and email. If one account is banned, bullies can create new ones to continue the online harassment.
      • Bullies can attack their victims anonymously. Cyberbullies can create fake social media profiles and mask their identities to avoid getting caught.
      • Online platforms embolden online bullies. The anonymity of online platforms makes it hard to identify or stop bullies. Because of this, many perpetrators are confident that they will not face consequences.

      The bottom line: As soon as your children are able to go online independently, they can be at risk of getting targeted by online bullies. 

      Aura’s parental controls can help you understand how your kids use their digital devices and warn you of cyberbullying and online predators across hundreds of popular PC games. Learn more about Aura’s family safety app to keep your family protected.

      What Are the Emotional and Mental Effects of Cyberbullying?

      The mental and physical impact of cyberbullying only gets worse as the abuse continues, which is why you should try to identify and prevent cyberbullying as soon as possible.

      Here’s what can happen to your child after prolonged online abuse, and the warning signs that you should look out for: 

      Sudden changes in your child’s emotional state

      Kids who experience cyberbullying may suffer from anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. A study of female cyberbullying victims aged 19 to 25 found that 31% felt anger, while more than one in five felt sad or helpless [*]. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • They’re quick to get angry or frustrated. Victims may lash out at parents, teachers, or friends due to the emotional turmoil they are experiencing.
      • They spend more time on their own. Withdrawal from social events is a warning sign. Children may feel safer in their own rooms and avoid public events — especially if there’s a chance of seeing their tormentors. 
      • Changes in online behavior. If you spot your child avoiding specific social media platforms or creating new profiles, they could be trying to hide from online bullies.

      💡 Related: How To Keep Your Kids and Teens Safe on Social Media

      Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork 

      The trauma of being bullied online can impact a child's academic performance. Victims may find it hard to sleep or concentrate, especially if they go to school with the perpetrators.

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Declining grades. Students may not perform as well in school if they're being bullied. Keep an eye on your kids’ academic results and homework standards — sudden dips shouldn't be ignored.
      • Avoiding school and school-related activities. If your child once enjoyed school or after-school activities but is now reluctant to go, this can be a sign that something is wrong. Some children even skip classes to avoid their bullies.
      • Work ethic drops. If kids suddenly stop contributing to class regularly or struggle to keep up with homework, they may be facing some other challenges in their lives. 

      Isolation from friends, family, and school

      Cyberbullying victims may not be as interested in spending time with other people or may fear that friends they trust will betray them. Some people — especially teens — may worry about their social status and stop going to specific events or gatherings in case they’re targeted or humiliated in front of classmates. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • They no longer go to social events. Birthday parties or other activities outside of school may cause anxiety to children being bullied. Even if they get invited, they may not want to go.
      • They stay in the house more. Rather than going out to socialize or play with friends, victims of bullying may spend more time at home in the comfort of their rooms.
      • They talk less to friends. Kids typically talk to friends on devices, in person, or when playing games. If you notice that your child’s friends are no longer around, it’s worth asking why.

      💡 Related: How To See What Your Kid Is Doing Online

      A lack of interest in hobbies and other activities

      Anything that negatively impacts mental health often stops people from engaging in pursuits that they once enjoyed. Children who are bullied may have feelings of despair or hopelessness that cause them to lose interest in hobbies, especially if these include in-person activities.

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Skipping school activities or claiming that regular activities are canceled. Your child may stop going to sports practices or music lessons. Often, children invent excuses to avoid participating in these activities. 
      • Expressing anger or sadness with a specific activity. If children suddenly stop enjoying activities they once loved, there could be an underlying reason. Perhaps someone is teasing them about their hobby or targeting them when attending activities.
      • They even neglect solo hobbies. Depression and anxiety caused by bullying may lead to abandoning hobbies like playing musical instruments, drawing, or writing. 
      🔎 Catch the warning signs early: A spike in time spent on specific social media or messaging platforms can be a massive red flag of cyberbullying. Aura’s parental controls can give parents the insights they need to help keep their kids safe.

      Feeling powerless against bullying

      Victims may feel unable to defend themselves or stop online harassment, which can become apparent in many ways. The feeling of powerlessness is a warning sign of cyberbullying, which can present as fearfulness or lack of confidence. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Frequently losing things. It’s possible that bullies are taking your child’s belongings; and because of shame, your child is afraid to tell you. 
      • Running away from home or school. One of the most evident signs of bullying is when children drop out of sight at times when they should be at school or home. If a victim feels powerless, the natural thing to do is try to escape the situation. 
      • Becoming more introverted. When children are picked on, they may become more self-conscious and shy. You may notice your child is lacking confidence and feels seemingly helpless to perform simple tasks like speaking with others in public.

      💡 Related: The Top 10 Warning Signs of Cyberbullying (And What To Do)

      Heightened stress and anxiety — especially around digital devices

      Prolonged bullying is severely damaging to mental health — especially when it happens across multiple mediums online. Targets of bullying have reported higher rates of social anxiety and depression, and as many as 26% had suicidal thoughts [*]. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Avoidance of digital devices. If children stop using their computers and smartphones, it could indicate that someone is giving them a hard time when they go online.
      • Erratic online behavior. Victims may block and unblock contacts, or obsessively check notifications due to anxiety. If you notice kids quickly hiding their phones or jumping when it beeps, that's worth discussing. 
      • Anger or frustration after using a device. If you ever see your child forcefully slam shut a laptop or throw down their cell phone, consider this a major red flag. 

      Poor sleep and increased daytime fatigue

      In a systematic review of 9,443 adolescents who were cyberbullied over the previous 12 months, there was a clear association with sleep problems [*]. The anxiety that comes with cyberbullying makes it hard for many high school students to get to sleep, as they worry about school the next day and what lies ahead. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Frequently accessing devices during the night. When a child is online past their bedtime, it could be a sign that they are trying to deal with issues on social media or that they are monitoring their bullies.
      • Clear signs of fatigue. If your child always looks tired in the morning and seems forgetful or dazed throughout the day, something is impacting their sleeping habits. 
      • They develop sleep disorders. Insomnia and other sleep disorders can be linked to mental health issues that stem from cyberbullying.

      💡 Related: How To Control Internet Access At Your Home

      Dark or suicidal thoughts 

      In February 2023, 14-year-old Adriana Kuch took her own life after being attacked at a New Jersey high school. The bullies shared a clip of the assault online, causing the young girl more stress than she could handle [*]. Victims feeling the effects of cyberbullying are more likely to suffer from suicidal ideation than those who have not experienced cyberbullying.

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • They express suicidal feelings. If children don’t talk about their problems or emotions, these feelings could come out in poems, stories, or artwork that depicts suicide or self-harm.
      • Researching suicide. It's good to monitor your younger family members' search histories. If ever you discover they’ve been looking up content about self-harm, it's vital to talk to them immediately before they make suicide attempts.
      • Expressing feelings of hopelessness for the future. Child victims might make statements about life seeming pointless, or the future being hopeless and offering no prospects.
      📞 Get help dealing with cyberbullying. If you or a loved one is dealing with dark thoughts, dial 988 to speak with someone from the national 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. This is a free, confidential, and 24/7 resource.

      Low self-esteem

      Bullying online can cause children to feel ashamed or unworthy, which damages their self-esteem. When children develop low self-esteem, they may doubt themselves and their abilities. In the long run, this makes children less willing to try new things, express themselves, or pursue their ambitions.

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors. Victims of cyberbullying may lash out emotionally by hurting themselves, demonstrating bad behavior at school, or engaging in substance or alcohol abuse.
      • Developing a mindset that they are inferior. Children with low self-esteem may express their feelings with their family members. They could talk about "feeling stupid" or speak in a way that undermines their own abilities in certain areas, like sports or art.
      • Thinking others are better than they are. A hallmark of low self-esteem and confidence is feeling inadequate compared to others. 

      Using drugs or alcohol

      Victims often turn to substances as a way to cope with the negative effects of cyberbullying. A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that students who were bullied when they were in the fifth grade were more likely to use marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco when they reached 10th grade [*].

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Deterioration of appearance and personal hygiene. Those using drugs or alcohol often neglect their hygiene and grooming habits. Strong body odor, visible dandruff, and dirty clothes may point to a bigger problem.
      • Sudden fluctuation in weight. People who use drugs or alcohol may lose a lot of weight or put on weight quickly. 
      • Tremors, slurring their words, or lack of coordination. Substance abuse may be noticeable if your kid develops tremors, slurred speech, or poor coordination.

      💡 Related: When Should Kids Get Their First Phones? (2024 Guide)

      Changes to their friend groups

      Children who experience the effects of cyberbullying may lose friends or even become ostracized by their peers. While some changes in friendships are inevitable at every age, try to establish the reasons why — in case there is anything suspicious or concerning behind the fallout. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Constantly alone. Bullied kids may seek out new friends who are kinder and not likely to bully them. But if you notice your children are alone more often than not, they may be facing peer group challenges.
      • Rapid changes in online friends. Teens often have online friends, especially if they are into online gaming. If your child starts unfriending or blocking friends, or constantly talks about new people, there could be a social problem that stops them from building lasting relationships.
      • Not wanting to talk about friendships. Children may change the subject or not want to acknowledge someone with whom they were once friends, which could indicate some tensions with their former friends. 

      Eating disorders and physical issues

      People being bullied often begin having physical health problems. In the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, researchers found that many victims of cyberbullying developed eating disorders and related health issues, including weight gain and binge eating [*]. 

      Warning signs that your child is being bullied online:

      • Stomach pain. Regularly complaining of stomach aches or digestive problems could be a sign of anxiety or distress.
      • Changes in eating habits. Keep an eye out for a child eating a lot more or a lot less than usual — either of which can happen when kids are under extreme stress.
      • Skipping meals. Not eating regular family meals could be a sign of an eating disorder or worries about self-image.

      💡 Related: The Best Parental Controls Apps For iPhones

      What To Do If You Think Your Child Is Being Bullied

      Parental controls help keep kids safe; but unless you block internet access altogether, there is always a chance of online bullying. 

      Young people often struggle to talk about their feelings. Even if they are suffering from the effects of cyberbullying, they may be reluctant to seek help. It can be hard for them to open up and tell you what they are going through.

      The onus is on parents to look out for the warning signs of cyberbullying and to take action quickly.

      Here are eight steps to take if you think cyberbullies are targeting your child:

      • Create a safe environment for your child in which to talk about bullying. As soon as you recognize any warning signs, gently coax your child to open up — but don't force it. It’s crucial to maintain an open line of communication and show your children that they have a safe space to talk with you — without judgment. 
      • Listen without interrupting. Kids withdraw from telling parents about their problems if they think a parent will be upset, angry, or disappointed. Stay calm and praise your child for doing the right thing by talking.
      • Collect evidence of the bullying. Write down every detail your child shares, and collect screenshots of text messages, emails, social media photos, etc. If possible, double-check the full details of the story with your child before taking the next steps.
      • Block and report bullies to online platforms. You can block bullies on most platforms and report the behavior through customer support. Some cell phone providers may also help you block specific phone numbers.
      • Work with your child’s school. Set up a meeting with the principal (and appropriate teacher or guidance counselor) about the situation. Present your evidence, and push for immediate action to stop the problem.
      • If necessary, contact your local police department. Some behaviors require police help, such as in cases of violence, assault, theft, or harassment. Call the police immediately if you fear your child is in danger.
      • Seek out counseling to help your child work through the emotional effects. A mental health or psychiatry expert can help your child heal after bullying. Work with a counselor or therapist to develop positive coping skills that can rebuild your child’s confidence. 
      • Get help for yourself. Dealing with cyberbullying is hard on parents as well as children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, contact one of the main helplines that are available for both kids and adults. 
      • Consider a family safety app that offers cyberbullying alerts. A digital protection service can track your children’s online activities and send you alerts about cyberbullying issues. With Aura, you can protect your family’s online accounts and look out for your children’s well-being on gaming and social media platforms. Try Aura for free today and keep your whole family safe online. 

      Are There Laws Against Cyberbullying? 

      All 50 states in America have anti-bullying laws to protect students and young people from the harmful effects of bullying. The protocol may vary depending on the school or the local laws, but typical regulations include the following:

      • A clear policy that outlines procedures to handle bullying
      • Requirement for a school to investigate and report bullying within a specific number of days
      • The methods students have available to report bullying incidents
      • What consequences the bullies will face if found guilty

      In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education created a framework of common components found in state laws, policies, and regulations focused on bullying. The framework includes a procedure for students, families, staff, and others to report incidents and ensure safeguards for students who have been bullied. 

      There is not currently a federal law that specifically applies to cyberbullying. However, bullying overlaps with harassment when it is based on race or ethnicity, color, national origin, sex, disability, or religion. In these cases, both police and schools are legally obligated to address the issue.

      The Bottom Line: Keep Your Entire Family Safe Online

      Cyberbullying has become a massive threat to young people. From social media to gaming platforms, the digital age presents omnipresent threats that can follow your children home from school. Even if you know the warning signs, it can be challenging to handle and prevent bullying.

      Aura’s easy-to-use, all-in-one solution offers the best way to protect your family from cyberbullies, predators, and scammers. 

      Here’s how Aura keeps your kids safe:

      • Award-winning parental controls, such as phone usage insights, app blocking, and in-game chat monitoring — along with real-time alerts and analytics about your child’s gaming activity, including potential cyberbullying. 
      • Content filters allow you to customize what your kids can view online and limit access to platforms such as chat rooms, forums, and social media.
      • Digital security tools to proactively protect you and your family from identity theft and hacking. With antivirus software, a Virtual Private Network (VPN), a secure password manager, and email aliases, Aura makes it easy for you to safeguard all of your family’s devices. 
      • Dark Web monitoring allows you to scan the internet in real-time, and alerts you if your child's personal information has been leaked online.
      • 24/7 support from U.S.-based agents to help you navigate challenges with online platforms, vendors, and banks should anyone in your family fall prey to fraud.
      Keep your entire family safe online. Try Aura free for 14 days.

      Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you to increase awareness about digital safety. Aura’s services may not provide the exact features we write about, nor may cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat discussed in our articles. Please review our Terms during enrollment or setup for more information. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime.

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