Cyberbullying: A Guide for Parents

What is Cyberbullying?

Some general points

  • Cyberbullying occurs when bullying behaviour is carried out through the use of ICT systems such as e-mail, mobile phones, instant messaging (IM), social networking websites, apps and other online technologies.
  • The most important feature of bullying is the intention to annoy, etc.
  • However, we can also cause annoyance unintentionally.
  • Therefore, think before you send a message!
  • Remember that the same message may be interpreted differently depending on whether it was received as, for example, a text or as an oral message, by post or as a tweet.

Some more specific points 

  • Bullying is conduct that is aggressive, threatening or intimidating and that is, generally, repeated.
  • It may be conducted by verbal, psychological or physical means by an individual or group against one or more persons.
  • Bullying is always wrong and is unacceptable behaviour. It should never be overlooked or ignored.
  • Cyberbullying refers to bullying which is carried out using the internet, mobile phone or other technological devices.
  • Cyberbullying generally takes a psychological rather than physical form but is often part of a wider pattern of ‘traditional’ bullying.
  • It can take the form of sending nasty, mean or threatening messages, emails, photos or video clips; silent phone calls; putting up nasty posts or pictures; saying hurtful things; pretending to be someone else or accessing someone’s accounts to make trouble for them.

Must the bullying be prolonged or continuous?

Bullying is more likely to be behaviour that is sustained or repeated over time and which has a serious negative effect on the well-being of the victim. It is generally a deliberate series of actions. Once-off posting of nasty comments on someone’s profile or uploading photographs intended to embarrass someone is not very nice but it may not, by itself, be bullying.

However, a one-off electronic message  is  very  different  to  a hand-written message. The big difference between writing nasty messages on the back of a school book and posting it on the internet is that the online messages can potentially be seen by a very wide audience almost instantly. And, as already noted, the message can remain available on the internet even if it is later removed from the site where it was first posted. In other words, the online message, even if intended to be one off, can become, in effect, permanent.

  • Many people tend not to feel as responsible for their online actions as they do in ‘real life’, for example, a more informal style is often used when posting messages on the internet, but ‘informal’ must not become ‘careless’.
  • When they are online, users can hide behind the anonymity that the internet can provide.
  • There is also a tendency, especially between young people, to hide their messages from adults, even when there is nothing abusive, insulting, etc.
  • In most cases, cyberbullies know their targets, but their victims don’t always know the person bullying them. This can prove very isolating for the victim in group, club or school settings where they come to distrust all their peers.
  • Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place and, parents should be aware that for many children, home is no longer a safe haven from bullying.

How young victims might react to Cyberbullying

  • Young people are often fearful of telling others about being bullied because they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell.
  • They are often also afraid to report incidents, as they fear that adults will take away their mobile phone or other device and/ or their internet access.
  • As a result they can feel isolated, they do not know who to trust and their judgment, self-image and confidence can all be damaged.

Different forms of Cyberbullying

  • PERSONAL INTIMIDATION – This behaviour includes sending threatening text (SMS) messages, posting abusive and threatening comments on the victim’s profile or other websites, or sending threatening messages via instant messaging (IM).
  • IMPERSONATION – This behaviour involves setting up fake profiles and web pages that are attributed to the victim. It can also involve gaining access to someone’s profile or instant messaging account and using it to contact others and subsequently bully them while impersonating the account or profile owner.
  • EXCLUSION – This behaviour involves blocking an individual from a popular group or community online.
  • PERSONAL HUMILIATION – This behaviour involves posting images or videos intended to embarrass or humiliate someone. It can involve users sharing and posting images or videos of victims being abused or humiliated offline, or users sharing personal communications such as emails or text messages with a wider audience than was intended by the sender.
  • FALSE REPORTING – This behaviour involves making false reports to the service provider or reporting other users for a range of behaviours with a view to having the user’s account or website deleted.

This article was taken from the ‘Get with it!’ Series “A guide to cyberbullying” 2013. Produced by The Office for Internet Safety, Department of Justice and Equality. You can get further information on general internet safety issues by visiting 

To access the full booklet click here 

This booklet is intended to increase awareness of all aspects of cyberbullying in the new media world and to help parents and their children understand the often confusing issues of new media technologies and tools which children and young people are using for this behaviour.