For today’s children, bullies don’t exist just in the schoolyard. Use of cell phones, social media pages like Facebook and Twitter, instant messenger programs, blogs, chat rooms and other technology can open kids up to attacks from cyberbullies.

Tweens and teens are masters of modern communication, sending messages to friends with the click of a button. Technology, however, can be misused to spread rumors and other hurtful information.

Cyberbullying is defined as deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing or hostile information about another person, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Not only is it the most common online risk among teens, one-sixth of 6- to 11-year-olds have reported being cyberbullied, according to a 2006 study.

Unlike traditional bullying, cyberbully victims are harassed at a younger age, and young girls are at greatest risk. Victims also are less likely to know who is bullying them, due to the ease of anonymity in cyberspace.

Children and teens who have been cyberbullied report feelings of depression, anxiety and severe isolation; it has even led to suicide. Cyberbully victims often will avoid attending school or an activity, become upset after computer or cell phone use, or seem unusually sad or withdrawn, according to the AAP book, CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media, by Gwenn O’Keeffe, M.D., FAAP.

To avoid having a child become a victim, the AAP offers the following tips for parents:

  • match a cell phone’s features based on needs and age;

  • ensure recommended minimum age requirements are met for using social media sites such as Facebook (age 13 years) and use parental controls; and

  • explain that when a child, tween or teen posts comments and photos on the Internet or via cell phone, they may be shared with others without consent.

Parents also can encourage their child’s school to spread cyberbullying prevention messages and promote cyber-free time during after-school events and at social activities such as sleepovers.

©2011 American Academy of Pediatrics. This information may be freely copied and distributed with proper attribution.