The New Harm Of Social Media Bullying

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated March 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

How Do You Support Your Child With Bullying?

Just twenty years ago, we never would have thought of anything called ‘social media bullying’ because social media was unheard of. Unfortunately, alongside the many benefits of technology and social media, there are some very serious negatives. Cyberbullying is one of those. The internet has become yet another place where people can bully. Cyberbullying can be entirely innominate, involve far more people than ever before, and can be difficult to escape since the virtual world is connected 24/7. Learning about cyberbullying and ways to prevent it can help put an end to it and can be an important step in helping those who are targets of cyberbullying.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a behavior in which one person intentionally and repeatedly causes another harm or pain (including emotional pain). The intimidating or cruel person can be anyone, not just a stereotype of a tough playground bully hurting a small, weak child, for example. Typically, the target of bullying behavior has not done anything to “cause” the attacks. They may have difficulty knowing how to defend themselves.

Bullying can take many forms, from verbal and physical to subtle but persistent hostile behaviors, sometimes called microaggressions. Bullying can take place in person or over digital devices, which is called cyberbullying. Any bullying can have lasting, negative effects on the person who is bullied.

What Is Social Media Bullying?

Social media bullying is sometimes referred to as cyberbullying, which takes place digitally through such methods as texts, SMS, apps, online games, chatrooms, and social media platforms. Social media bullying can occur on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and other sites.

Behaviors that are considered bullying if done in person are still bullying if they take place on social media. Unfortunately, this type of bullying can occur under fake usernames, making it harder to report and harder to stop.

Three serious concerns are specific to social media bullying in particular and to cyberbullying in general.

Social media bullying can be:

  1. Persistent: Because digital devices provide a method of communication that is immediate, constant, and available day and night, it can be very challenging for a target of bullying to escape it and find even momentary relief.
  2. Permanent: Much electronic communication is permanent and public, at least to some degree. It can be very difficult to completely purge online content, including content that is bullying in nature. So, it can follow the target of the bullying behavior (and those who bullied) for years.
  3. Harder to recognize: Because social media bullying takes place online, it can be done covertly in many cases. In the case of in-person bullying, much bullying behavior may take place out of the earshot of parents, teachers, or bosses. Still, cyberbullying may go even more unrecognized by those who could intervene and help the target of the bullying.

What To Do if You Are The Target Of Social Media Bullying

If you are the target of bullying, there are steps you can take to handle the situation:

  1. Keep being you. Remember that the bullying behavior is a reflection of the other person. You may be experiencing something very hurtful, but it does not have to define you. You have strengths and great qualities. You can keep moving forward and being who you are.
  2. Try ignoring the bullying behavior. By not responding to the bullying behavior, you might take some of the power from the person doing the bullying.
  3. Stand up for yourself. Bullies tend to target those who they feel are weaker than they are. Standing up for yourself can help show your strength. It may take courage, and it may even take “pretending” to be brave, but it can be a powerful way to end the bullying. Keeping it simple can often work. On social media, you could say something to the point like, “Stop. Leave me alone.” (This can also show others that you don’t like the behavior. You may find support this way from other followers or online “friends.”) After telling them to stop, you can cut social media ties with them.
  4. Block online cyberbullies. You can block them if someone makes negative, hateful, or hurtful comments on your accounts or posts. You can also unfollow or “unfriend” them.
  5. Be respectful. Even in the face of bullying, being respectful can be a sign of strength. If you firmly but respectfully speak your mind or stand your ground, you can signal that you are in charge of your emotions and won’t let their negativity turn into your negativity.
  6. Acknowledge your feelings and talk about them. It can be healthy and helpful to acknowledge the way you’re feeling and talk to someone who can support you, such as a parent, a school counselor, a trusted teacher, or a friend. There might be an anti-bullying group or program; people involved in these programs may be good resources and support systems. Know that many people truly care.
  7. Reach out for help. Talking about bullying and asking for help can be challenging. Many who are the targets of bullying may feel intimated or embarrassed to tell others about what’s happening in their lives. They may worry about retaliation or about bringing unwanted attention to themselves. However, seeking help and support can be a safe way to put an end to bullying. Be persistent and keep asking for help until you feel you have the support you need.
  8. Report the behavior.Gov has a list of links for reporting bad social media behavior to various social media platforms. If the bullying is happening from a fellow student or co-worker, you can also report the behavior to your school or place of work. There are usually policies in place to help end bullying. There are laws to address bullying: many states have laws regarding cyberbullying, and all states have laws requiring schools to respond to bullying. You can also show screenshots of the bullying behavior so that those you’re telling understand what you’re enduring. Remember – some people want to help.

If you feel threatened or receive threats, please reach out for help immediately. Always call 9-1-1 if you are in immediate danger. The Crisis Text Line can help you. You can reach a Crisis Counselor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by texting HOME to 741741. The Crisis Text Line specifically says that they offer help for bullying: “By texting HELLO to 741741, you can connect with a Crisis Counselor who can listen judgment-free and help you strategize ways to get through the day.”

How Do You Support Your Child With Bullying?

What To Do If Your Child Is Being Bullied

If your child is being bullied, taking steps to help your child immediately can be very important for their emotional health and safety. Steps to take include:

  1. Make sure your child is and feels safe.
  2. Showing unconditionalsupport and showing through words and actions that you want to stop cyberbullying.
  3. Communicating with your child. Talking with and calmly listening to your child is important. Your child is already experiencing strong emotions, so staying calm can be extra helpful. Take the time to find out what has and is occurring and the context of it.
  4. Acknowledging the seriousness of what your child is experiencing. Try not to minimize the situation or make excuses for the bullying behavior.
  5. Refraining from immediately contacting the parents of the aggressor. It can be wise to think carefully and even seek professional guidance (from a counselor, for instance) before talking to the parents of the person who has been bullying. Telling parents that their child is engaging in negative behavior can be a difficult conversation. If the other parents become defensive, there is a chance that nothing productive will come from the talk. Additionally, saving your child from further bullying must be a priority.
  6. Working with the school. If the aggressor goes to the same school, working with the school to stop the bullying may help and can be important. All schools in the US are required to address bullying.
  7. Keeping records. Screenshots, messages, pictures, or other indications that your child is being bullied can help schools, social media platforms, and others who are involved understand that the behavior is taking place and is serious.
  8. Contact the social media platform.Cyberbullying violates the terms of service of all legitimate service providers.
  9. Encourage your child to keep talking to you.
  10. Consider counseling. A licensed mental health professional can help your child manage the potential effects of bullying, such as anxiety, worry, low self-esteem, isolation, and depression. They can also help your child learn helpful coping strategies and positive skills to move forward.

Seek help if your child has been threatened or has been physically harmed. Seek medical help and contact law enforcement.

What To Do If Your Child Is Bullying Others On Social Media

With social media and the internet, a child can get caught up in bullying behavior. It’s crucial to explain the proper internet use to children before they’re online or using social media.

If you find that your child is bullying, it can be unpleasant, but it’s important to address it for your child’s emotional wellness and that of others. Denial or defensiveness will not be helpful. Instead, try to take proactive steps to stop the bullying behavior and help your child engage in healthy, kind behavior. Take the situation seriously, find out what’s going on, and determine how to help your child stop their behavior. Try not to excuse the behavior. If someone is concerned that your child is bullying or if another child is feeling bullied, it’s important not to dismiss the situation as “teasing” or a phase. If your child’s school is involved, try to work with them in the spirit of cooperation. They have policies in place to address bullying and to make school a safe place for all.

If your child is bullying, try communicating with them openly. Talk to them about bullying and about what’s going on. Let them know you love them no matter what but that you won’t tolerate bullying. Try discussing ways that they can make amends and stop their behavior. Ask them why they think they’re engaging in the behavior. Are they feeling sad? Insecure? Looking for attention from others? Has someone bullied them? Counseling may be helpful. A therapist can help a child understand what might be bothering them, why they’re engaging in negative behavior, and what they can do to feel better and act kindly.

What Are The Effects Of Social Media Bullying?

Social media bullying can affect children in the same ways that other forms of bullying do. Children who are bullied are more likely to experience the following negative outcomes: depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, change in eating patterns, feelings of sadness, loneliness, isolation, and a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. These effects can continue through adulthood. They also tend to have more health complaints. Their school attendance and achievement can also be affected. Children who have experienced bullying are more likely to have lower grades and test scores and drop out of school. A small number of children who experience bullying may also become violent. On a hopeful note, people can recover from the effects of bullying, build their resilience, and have positive outcomes. Support from others—such as family, peers, and licensed mental health professionals—can help.


If you or your child is the target of bullying, it’s important to give them support and help as soon as possible. Bullying can affect how people think about themselves and how they interact with the world around them. It can impact their future and cause symptoms that can take time to reverse. Support at home and professional help are good steps on the path to healing. If your child engages in bullying behavior towards others, taking steps to stop the negative actions and addressing its causes can be critical for your child and those they’re bullying.

At BetterHelp, teens, adults, and families can connect with licensed mental health professionals. Online therapy through BetterHelp can be a good resource for recovering from bullying, building self-esteem, and learning ways to engage in positive, helpful thought patterns and behaviors.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started