Cyberbullying: How to Respond

Much of the information for this week’s post comes from a webinar presentation called “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Advice for Parents to Prevent Cyberbullying” by Dr. Justin Patchin, Univeristy of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, author and director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. This is the last post to a three part series on Cyberbullying. Check out Part 1: What is cyberbullying and why isn’t it as easy as you might think to stop? and Part 2: How to prevent cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying seems to have become every bit as real in the everyday life of teens as any flesh and blood bully, perhaps even more so. With technology reaching into every aspect of public, personal and home life, cyberbullying can seem like a voice repeating negative things directly into your teen’s head and, at the same time, shouting them out to everyone else.

What should you do if your teen is being cyberbullied?

First you have to realize that the bullying is happening. This is not as easy or as obvious as it sounds. Teen’s access to digital devices is often so wide spread that, even if you contain the devices in common areas in your home and collect all portable technological devices at night, you will still not be present and watching every minute that your teen interacts with others using technology.

You will have to…

  • Ask your teen about their online activity. Find out what apps and platforms they are using. Try to determine what they are doing on them and with whom they are interacting.
  • Remain alert to changes in your child’s physical and emotional health and consider that online activity could be a reason if your child is experiencing health challenges, such as stomachaches, depression, abrupt changes in sleep or socializing habits.
  • Educate yourself about what kinds of programs and apps your teen might be using. There are secret, self destructing apps that “disappear” after a short time (though kids have discovered ways to capture and save the information) and/or allow users to post with complete anonymity such as Snapchat or YikYak. There are dating apps like Tinder, which pinpoints how close two individuals might be located so that they can potentially engage in a “hookup”. There are texting apps such as “Whatsapp” which allow teens to text, but does not store the record of those texts on the phone where the parent can review them.


If your teen is experiencing cyberbullying

  • Ask if they know who the bully is.
    Dr. Patchen points out that while bullies appear “virtually” anonymous, research shows that victims tend to know the bully’s identity.
  • Collect and save the evidence of the bullying.
    Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying always creates a written or visual record. Do not delete this evidence. Uncomfortable though it may be, the evidence is your proof and your best defense.
  • Don’t retaliate or respond.

    Acknowledging and/or reacting to the bullying can escalate the problem, lead to miscommunication and even cause the victim to get into trouble themselves.

  • Hold various stakeholders accountable.
    Sometimes schools claim cyberbullying activity that is done from home or outside of school is not the school’s problem. Search engines, platforms and app developers often argue that they are not responsible for monitoring and policing their users. You may have to be a persistent and pushy parent in order to spread the message and get others to take ownership of the fact that everyone has an investment in the prevention of bullying.
  • Help your teen find ways to use technology to empower themselves.
    One of the most harmful effects of bullying is the feeling of powerlessness that it creates. Technology can provide a resource for your young person to regain their sense of personal power and strength, but offering the opportunity to contribute. Teens can seek out other like-minded peers, start a campaign in their community or organize an effort to do something positive to help others who are struggling with difficult situations.
  • Get Support and Information
    This can be a short-term issue for your teen or a long-term life-altering problem. Regardless, it can be important to find support for yourself and your teen as you are going through the experience.

Here are some links to websites with helpful information about where to begin.

The Cyberbullying Research Center

Stop Bullying

The Bully Project

The National Bullying Prevention Center

Dealing with Cyberbullying


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a pre-adolescent. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.