New face of bullying: Cyberbullying

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DETROIT - Bullying is an unfortunate part of just about everyone's childhood experience.

If you haven't experienced bullying first hand, chances are you've witnessed it. But if you're old enough to have teenage kids, chances are, you're too old to have experienced the new face of bullying--cyberbullying. 

We've all heard the horror stories on television about kids being so tormented online that they feel that they've run out of options for coping. 

Yet, when the headlines fade, we tend to focus attention elsewhere.  But cyberbullying is an ongoing problem that occurs every day and could be closer to your family than you realize.

Cyberbulling  is "when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones" (when adults are involved, such activities are known as cyberharassment or cyberstalking). [1]

So why should we be concerned about cyberbullying? 

  • Well, consider the extent to which kids use social media. 
  • Ninety-six percent of youth who are active online have engaged in social media activities. [2]
  • Youth in one study spend an average of 7.5 hours per day, 7 days a week on social media sites. [3] 
  • Kids use Web 2.0 tools as a platform to engage in activities that previous generations could do only in person such as developing and maintaining friendships, collaborating over schoolwork, and playing multi-user games.  

With such active online use, the risk for cyberbullying can't be ignored.  Here are a few facts about the risks of cyberbullying found in the literature: 

Victims may experience:

  • Having messages and emails forwarded without permission
  • Receiving threatening messages
  • Having someone spread a rumor about them online
  • Having someone post an embarrassing picture of them online without permission [4]
  • Studies range in findings on the number of youth that have been cyberbullied from 32 percent [4] to 72 percent [5]
  • Victims are generally the same age as their instigators [6]  

And what about the impact of cyberbullying? 

Well, in the pre-social media era, one could at least find protection from bullying at home.  But the broad reach and 24/7 nature of cyberbullying makes this phenomenon especially devastating.  I'll explore the impact of cyberbullying, characteristics of cyberbullies, and tactics to end cyberbullying in future posts. 

More to come.


Cynthia Overton is Senior Research Analyst in the Education Program at American Institutes for Research.  She has written and spoken internationally on the role of technology in advancing learning outcomes for students with disabilities.


[1] Aftab, P., 2011a. Stop Cyberbullying. WiredKids, Inc. Retrieved April 13, 2013 from 

[2] National School Boards Association (NSBA), 2007. Creating and connecting: Research and guidelines on online social – and educational – networking. Retrieved April 13, 2013 from 

[3] Rideout et al., 2010. Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved April 13, 2013 from 

[4] Lenhart, A., 2007. Cyberbullying. Pew Internet & American Life Project, Washington, DC.  Retrieved April 13, 2013 from 

[5] Juvonen, J., & Gross, E., 2008. Extending the school grounds? Bullying experiences in cyberspace. The Journal of School Health, 78(9), p. 496-505. 

[6] Wolak J, et al., 2007.  Does Online Harassment Constitute Bullying? An Exploration of Online Harassment by Known Peers and Online-Only Contacts. Journal of Adolescent Health. Dec: 41 S51-S58

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