The impact of cyberbullying is the same as any other form of bullying, affecting self-esteem and self-confidence and in severe cases leading to mental health issues with potential consequences of self harm and suicide.

With the increasing use of technology by society as a whole, coupled with the growing numbers of social media platforms, the issue of cyberbullying is on the increase.  For some young people this has reportedly led to tragic consequences, and the ability to hide behind technology means that people are regularly being trolled by others.

Cyberbullying can take many forms:

  • threats and intimidation;
  • harassment / stalking;
  • the forwarding of images and information that has been posted privately by the victim;
  • isolation or rejection;
  • rejection by peer groups;
  • defamation of character.

As parents, carers, teachers and practitioners, there is a need to ensure that we help young people stay safe when online whilst also accepting that for young people today there is no differentiation between online and offline worlds.

Definition of cyberbullying

“Cyberbullying, or online bullying, can be defined as the use of technologies by an individual or by a group of people to deliberately and repeatedly upset someone else.”

Childnet, 2017

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How cyberbullying happens

Young people talked to Childnet about a range of ways that cyberbullying could be carried out, including:

  • posting comments, messages, photos or screenshots that are mean, threatening, untrue, personal, secret or embarrassing.
  • anonymous messages or abuse (on social networks or online gaming).
  • filming you or taking photos of you without your consent.
  • ‘indirect’ messages when you don’t directly name someone but everyone knows who you are talking about.
  • fake accounts or profiles.
  • excluding people from online conversations or talking behind your back.

Young people also mentioned cyberbullying could be targeted on the grounds of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and race.

It is therefore important that as professionals we listen to what we are being told and are prepared to talk about the impact of technology on young people, seeking advice if we do not understand the issues being talked about.

What you need to know

Cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on children and young people. It is important that schools take measures to prevent and tackle bullying among pupils.

If online content is offensive or inappropriate, and the person or people responsible are known, you need to ensure they understand why the material is unacceptable or offensive and request they remove it.

However, it is also important schools make it clear that bullying of staff, whether by pupils, parents or colleagues, is unacceptable. Evidence indicates that one in five (21%) teachers have reported having derogatory comments posted about them on social media sites from both parents and children.

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Are cyberbullying and bullying distinct?


The BBC (2017) report that a study carried out by the Oxford Internet Institute and published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health journal suggests “cyber-bullying is far less common than “traditional” face-to-face bullying”. The study’s authors recognise that this is in contrast to public perception, but are keen to stress that their main message is that “it does not make sense to think of cyberbullying as its own thing”.

The authors encourage anyone working with children and young people to look at bullying and cyberbullying as two sides of the same coin. The main solution is to create environments where children and young people feel comfortable to talk about any form of bullying experience. The BBC do also note that charities however report an increase in contacts relating to online bullying over the last five years, suggesting that the debate continues.

The Lancet

Cyberbullying is an increasingly common form of bullying behaviour which happens on social networks, games and mobile phones. It can include spreading rumours about someone, or posting nasty or embarrassing messages, images or videos. Children may know who’s bullying them online – it may be an extension of offline peer bullying – or they may be targeted by someone using a fake or anonymous account. Cyberbullying can happen at any time or anywhere – a child can be bullied when they are alone in their bedroom – so it can feel like there’s no escape.

It’s easy to be anonymous online and this may increase the likelihood of engaging in bullying behaviour.

Risk factors

Although cyberbullying can affect anyone at any time, some groups may demonstrate higher vulnerabilities:

Think about what measures you have in place in your school to address potential discrimination or targeting of these groups. How are British values promoted in the curriculum in a way that creates a cohesive culture in the school to raise awareness of problems and reduce the impact of cyberbullying. Do you have particular routes young people use to report a concern?

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Spotting the signs

The signs of bullying and cyberbullying overlap. Some specific issues signs include:

  • aggression;
  • isolation;
  • difficulty concentrating;
  • difficulty developing relationships;
  • reduction in attendance and/or attainment;
  • eating disorder;
  • low self-esteem, depression or anxiety;
  • self-harm.
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What you can do

  • have bullying champions in the staff and student group;
  • any instances of bullying should be addressed immediately;
  • every school should have clear and understood policies in place that include the acceptable use of technologies by pupils and staff that address cyberbullying;
  • develop a community approach to bullying, involving pupils, parents/careers and the school;
  • if you have any concerns regarding cyberbullying these should be raised with the bullying champion and designated safeguarding lead.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know they’re safe.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handout for school staff summarising cyberbullying;
  • Quiz to test staff understanding.
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