What is considered cyberbullying?

Although cyberbullying is in many ways the same as regular bullying, the use of technology adds a level of complexity that can impact both the engagement in and experience of these behaviours. Cyberbullying includes:

  • sending abusive emails
  • making silent or abusive phone calls
  • spreading rumours via email or telephone
  • sending offensive text messages
  • making or posting hurtful videos
  • excluding others online
  • posting insulting messages on the internet or social media

Back to top

How common is cyberbullying?

The prevalence of cyberbullying remains largely unclear. This is primarily related to the emerging behaviour, changing technologies and difficulties in defining and measuring the problem accurately. Internationally, cyberbullying prevalence rates have been reported as high as 25% in the United States, Canada and England and between 5% and 15% in many European countries and Australia.

Back to top

Why do children cyberbully?

It is important to consider whether people cyberbully for different reasons than they bully in non-cyber ways. Although the literature is sparse, it can be concluded that the motives are varied. The main reasons provided by students for their cyberbullying behaviour include:

  • revenge for being bullied in real life
  • a reaction to a previous argument
  • a means for the person bullying to display their technological skills
  • for fun

Given the motivations, it is highly likely that not having to see the fear in the target’s eyes and being less aware of the consequences reduces the potential for empathy and remorse — factors which would lessen the likelihood of future acts of aggression and bullying.

Back to top

What advice can I give to children about protecting themselves online?


  • Do not open a message from any name you don’t recognise.
  • Tell an adult if you keep getting messages from names you don’t recognise or from people with whom you don’t want to communicate.
  • If you recognise the sender as someone who has sent upsetting messages in the past, tell an adult.
  • Do not share your email address with anyone other than those you know well and can trust.

Social media

  • Always think carefully when you put something on the internet. If you wouldn’t want your future boss to see it, keep it offline!
  • Don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
  • Read up on social media privacy settings and learn how to control who sees your posts.
  • Don’t retaliate or respond to cyberbullying. If someone is abusing you online, tell an adult you trust, like a parent or teacher.

Chat rooms

  • Remember you can never really be sure who you are chatting to on the internet.
  • If you are not comfortable with any messages that you read while chatting, leave the chat.
  • Do not give strangers personal information such as your address, telephone, school or name.
  • Do not send your picture to anyone you don’t know really well.

Mobile phones

Mobile phones are perfect for bullies to taunt and threaten their target with little fear of being caught. Since many prepaid mobiles can be bought cheaply, without any proof of identity, it can be impossible to trace who has sent calls or text messages from them.

  • Only give your mobile phone number to people you know well and can trust.
  • Don’t reply to any nasty messages.
  • Try to keep abusive messages in your phone, as they can be used as evidence.


When someone sends unwelcome messages over and over, this is called ‘cyberstalking’. This type of harassment is particularly scary, as it follows the person everywhere via their phone or computer.

  • The best way to avoid cyberstalking is to be careful to whom you give your personal information.
  • You could also change your phone number and email address.
  • If it continues, you could ask an adult to contact the police or your internet provider to work out ways of protecting yourself.

Site victimisation

A recent and nasty development is people setting up a website to target pupils by inviting others to post hate messages. No matter what schools do, experts agree that parents need to get involved, checking chat rooms and SMS messages. If a problem is detected, one way to stop it is to file a complaint with the website host or internet service provider and get the material removed. Tell your children to always keep a record of any abusive or inappropriate messages they receive. They should be getting printed copies or screenshots of these offending messages, so they can share them with a friend, the school or a trusted adult.

Back to top

Friendly Schools acknowledges the Public Education Endowment Trust (PEET), who provided funding for the Cyber Strong Schools research project on which the Cyberbullying Support section of this website is based.