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, coupled with the growing numbers of social media and gaming platforms, the issue of cyberbullying has also increased. For some children and young people this has reportedly led to tragic consequences. The ability to hide behind technology means that some people are regularly being trolled by others.

Cyberbullying can take many forms:

  • threats and intimidation;
  • harassment and stalking;
  • the forwarding of images (including nude / semi-nude images) and information that has been shared privately by the victim;
  • isolation or rejection (including by peer groups);
  • defamation of character;
  • revealing sensitive or personal information about someone without their consent ;
  • using tagging and/or memes to humiliate;
  • impersonating someone to belittle them;
  • creating or adding to an abusive poll about someone.

Parents, carers, teachers and practitioners, must ensure we help children and young people stay safe when online, accepting that for children and young people today there is no differentiation between online and offline worlds.

Definition of cyberbullying

“Online bullying, or cyberbullying, is when someone uses the internet to target and deliberately upset someone.”

Childnet, 2022

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How cyberbullying happens

Children and 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.

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

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

What you need to know

Cyberbullying is an increasingly common form of bullying behaviour (in the 2020 Ditch the Label report, over a quarter of children reported being cyberbullied). Children may know who is bullying them online – it may be an extension of offline bullying – or they may be targeted by someone using a fake or anonymous account. It 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 is no escape.

“I go to school and get bullied. Go home and online and still get bullied. I can’t ever escape it.”

Male, 14, North West, Ditch the Label Survey (2020)

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

Cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on children and young people. It is important that settings take measures to prevent and tackle all forms of bullying among children and young people.

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.

It is also important that settings make it clear that the bullying of staff, whether by pupils, parents or colleagues, is unacceptable.

The Department for Education says one in five teachers (21%) have reported having derogatory comments posted about them on social media sites from both parents and children.

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Risk factors

Although cyberbullying can affect anyone at any time, some children and young people may be more vulnerable, for example:

Think about what measures you have in place in your setting to address potential discrimination / and the targeting of these children. How are British values promoted in the curriculum in a way that creates a cohesive culture in your setting? How do you raise awareness of problems and reduce the impact of cyberbullying? Do you have routes that children and young people use to report a concern, and are these well publicised and understood by them?

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Spotting the signs

The signs of bullying and cyberbullying overlap. They can 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.
  • Address any instances of bullying immediately.
  • Every setting 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/carers and the setting.
  • Raise any concerns regarding cyberbullying with the bullying champion and designated safeguarding lead.

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


  • Teaching about online bullying

    The Anti-Bullying Alliance has put together guidance and resources with tips and advice following recent consultations with young people about how they felt teachers handled online bullying.

  • Stop Speak Support

    This school pack contains suggested activities and resources that teachers of key stages 3-4 can use with their students to encourage pupils to be good digital citizens and equip children and young people with the skills to know what they should do if they encounter bullying online.

  • National Bullying Helpline

    The National Bullying Helpline has more information about cyberbullying and advice for victims of online harassment.

  • Cyberbullying: advice for headteachers and school staff

    The government’s guidance also includes advice about how settings can tackle online bullying of staff, plus advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying.

  • Cyberbullying teaching resources

    Childnet has a range of teaching resources about cyberbullying for use with children across all age groups.

  • Anti-social media

    This research from Revealing Reality shares the stories and experiences of vulnerable young people viewing illegal activity on mainstream social media platforms. The research is also informed by the experiences and observations of a range of professionals and practitioners, including youth workers, police officers, liaison officers and teachers.

  • A safe space for young people worried about sexual behaviour

    If you know a young person who is worried about harmful sexual behaviour, signpost them to this web page from Shore. Part of the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, Shore provides anonymous advice and support when young people are worried about their (or someone else’s) sexual thoughts, feelings or actions and to help them learn more about living safely both online and offline.

  • Addressing School Avoidance

    This resource from the Anna Freud Centre for Children and Families looks at some of the reasons behind school avoidance and aims to help educational staff address the issue.

    You can also watch this video which provides practical ways that educational staff can help students by creating a space that allows them to feel both physically and emotionally safe.

  • Anti-racism and mental health in schools

    The Anna Freud Centre has a collection of podcasts, case studies, and policy templates about racism, its impact on child mental health and what education settings can do to address it.

For resources to develop staff knowledge of safeguarding, subscribe today.

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