Leigh was in eighth grade when the messages started — first, a weird text on her new cell phone, then some angry-sounding IMs. Her first year in high school, she learned that some of her classmates had created a website specifically to upset her. The emails, texts, and social media posts got worse. It was so bad that she eventually changed schools. Now 18, Leigh says she has come through the experience more self-aware and compassionate toward others. It was a terrible time, she says, but with some counseling and support from adults and friends, she was able to make sense of what happened to her.

Nearly half of all teens have been the victims of what’s come to be called “cyberbullying.” According to several recent studies, it’s a problem that is on the rise. The good news is that our awareness of cyberbullying and what works to prevent it is growing even faster. Here are some suggestions on what to do if you, or someone you know, is involved with online bullying.

What Counts as Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Online threats or “flames” (rude texts, IMs, or messages) count. So does posting personal information or videos designed to hurt or embarrass someone else.

Online bullying can be easier to commit than other acts of bullying because the bully doesn’t have to confront the victim in person. Some cyberbullies probably don’t realize just how hurtful their actions are.

Virtual Acts, Real Consequences

Because of the role technology plays in our lives, there is often no place to hide from bullies. Online bullying can happen at home as well as school (even in the coffee shop or anywhere else people go online). And it can happen 24 hours a day.

Sometimes, online bullying, like other kinds of bullying, can leave people at risk for serious problems: Stress from being in a constant state of upset or fear can lead to problems with mood, energy level, sleep, and appetite. It can also make someone feel jumpy, anxious, or sad.

It’s not just the person being bullied who gets hurt — the punishment for cyberbullies can be serious. More and more schools and after-school programs are creating systems to respond to cyberbullying. Schools may kick bullies off sports teams or suspend them from school. Some types of cyberbullying may violate school codes or even break antidiscrimination or sexual harassment laws, so a bully may face serious legal trouble.

Remember these tools for eliminating Cyber-Bullying: Don’t Forward It. Delete It. Report It.

Additional Resources: