Written By: Security.org Team | Published: July 24, 2020

Last Updated October 2nd, 2020

By Aliza Vigderman and the Security.org Research Team

There are an estimated 42 million children ages 10 to 18 in the U.S.1, and previous research on cyberbullying has found that roughly one in five children in this age range has been a victim2. With COVID-19, it’s no secret that kids are spending more time online; worldwide, people spend about 20 percent more time on social media now than they did pre-pandemic3. Children’s increased Internet usage sparked several questions for us: would cyberbullying increase as children’s usage of the Internet goes up, or would it decrease along with their limited in-person social interactions? Moreover, what behaviors or factors are correlated with higher rates of cyberbullying?

To find out, we asked more than 500 parents of kids ages 10 to 18 about cyberbullying during the first week of July 2020. Here are our key findings:

  • Twenty-one percent of parents said that a child in their household had been cyberbullied before, consistent with previous research on the topic.
  • Cyberbullying is starting at an early age, as parents report 14 percent of kids age 10-12 have experienced it.
  • Of the kids that have been cyberbullied, 56 percent of their parents said that the cyberbullying had occurred in the past six months.
  • Fourteen percent of parents said they weren’t sure if their children had been cyberbullied before or not.
  • Children who are bullied are more likely to have social media accounts. Sixty-nine percent of cyberbullying victims use Snapchat compared to 55 percent of kids that have not been cyberbullied.
  • Parents who monitored their children’s Internet usage were more likely to report cyberbullying than parents who did not. We believe this means that cyberbullying is underreported, as children do not always divulge incidents to their parents.

Video Overview

To see the findings of our most recent research on cyberbullying during the time of COVID-19, watch our video review, where journalist Aliza Vigderman reveals the most surprising data.

How Common is Cyberbullying?

Twenty-one percent of parents with kids between the ages of 10 and 18 reported that their household had experienced cyberbullying. These numbers are fairly consistent with previous research around the topic. A study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that in 2017, 20 percent of kids ages 12 to 18 had been cyberbullied during the school year. For more information, read our 2020 cyberbullying statistics.

Has Cyberbullying Increased During COVID-19?

Social distancing has caused huge increases in screen time for kids. Social media usage has gone up 21 percent worldwide, the usage of streaming services like Netflix has gone up 27 percent, and time spent on computer or video games has risen 18 percent. During the week of July 13th, 2020, 73 percent of the respondents said that cyberbullying has gotten worse in recent years, but what did the other numbers say, exactly?

Fifty-six percent of victims had experienced cyberbullying in the last six months, equating to approximately 5 million children age 10 to 18.

Socioeconomic and Behavior Factors of Cyberbullying

Aside from asking parents about whether or not their child has been cyberbullied, we also wanted to see what factors correlated with cyberbullying, focusing on social media, age, socioeconomic status, and whether or not the parent monitored their child online. Here’s what we found.

Social Media

The rates of cyberbullying were much higher for kids that used social media, the highest being YouTube at 79 percent followed by Snapchat and TikTok at 69 and 64 percent, respectively. Now, we’re not stating that these social media platforms caused cyberbullying; this is simply a correlation, although cyberbullying can occur on these platforms in addition to over calls, texts, and emails.

Ages

Our data showed that 14 percent of kids ages 10 to 12 have been cyberbullied, a figure that increased by two percent with the age groups 13 to 15 and 16 to 18. This makes sense, as more time on this Earth leads to more chances to be cyberbullied.

Household Income

Previous research from the Pew Research Center4 found that kids from lower-income families are more likely to be cyberbullied. Our survey confirms this finding as children from households earning less than $75,000 were twice as likely to be cyberbullied as children from more affluent households, according to their parents.

Monitoring

An interesting finding is that parents who monitor their children’s online behavior were more likely to report their children have been cyberbullied. We believe that this means that cyberbullying is likely underreported.

How To Stop Your Kid From Being Cyberbullied

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent cyberbullying from happening in the first place, actions that parents and kids alike can take to protect themselves online.

Advice for Parents

First, it’s important to know what your child is doing online: what social networks they’re a part of, what streaming services they use, the games they play and the people they communicate with. Just as you would in the real world, monitor your child’s online friendships5.

We also recommend telling your child to be kind online and avoid writing anything emotional. If they’re upset about something, the old adage, “Say it, forget it. Write it, regret it,” certainly applies. Instead of fighting online, talk to your child about an appropriate way to respond, and always follow the golden rule of treating people how you want to be treated6. With these tools in hand, you and your child are less likely to encounter cyberbullying, be it from a friend, foe or stranger.

Best Digital Practices for Kids

While we can try to monitor and control how our kids behave online, we also need to set them up for success with the best digital practices7 such as:

  • Protect passwords: Your child should use a long, complicated, and unique password for each account, which could prevent them from getting hacked. If they’re having trouble remembering all of them, they could either write them down on a sheet of paper stored in a secure spot or use a password manager with an encrypted vault.
  • Never take explicit photos: Explicit photos are illegal, even when a child is creating it. These types of photos can cause shame, anguish, cyberbullying, and worse.
  • Don’t open unidentified or unsolicited messages: This is a good tip for anyone using the Internet, but especially kids. Many sexual predators use the Internet to meet underage kids, so it’s important that your children only speak to people they know.
  • Log out of online accounts: A very common prank is for kids to go on each other’s open social media accounts and post something immature, which could lead to cyberbullying. Tell your child to always log out of their accounts, especially on shared or public devices.
  • Create privacy controls: There are many ways you can protect your child’s phone or computer, be it adding passcodes, turning on features like “Find My iPhone,” and restricting certain apps or websites. Don’t be afraid to dive deep into the settings!
  • Google yourself: Kids should Google themselves and see what comes up. If there’s anything that bullies could take advantage of, work on getting it removed by making a request to Google8.

Resources for Parents

Aside from our cybersecurity resource guide, we’ve listed some resources you can use if your child is cyberbullied.

Hotlines and Directories

There are a few great hotlines you can use to get help for your child, such as:

    • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline9: This non-profit organization offers free support 24/7.
    • 1-800-VICTIMS Resource Directory10: Simply enter your zip code to get a list of resources in your area.
    • The Trevor Project11: The Trevor Project organization provides a phone, text, and chat line for LGBTQ youth, available 24/7. This is a great way for your kid to talk to someone anonymously about their issues without fear of being judged.
    • National Parent Hotline12: Finally, the National Parent Hotline can provide you with the emotional support you need to be a better parent. Their Trained Advocates can help you help your child, connecting you to the local services and resources available in your area.

Getting Your Child A Therapist

If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, therapy can be a useful way for them to express their emotions to an objective third party, but where do you start your search for a child therapist? Here are our recommendations:

      • Psychology Today Listings13: The magazine and website Psychology Today shows listings for mental health professionals in the United States sorted by city or zip code. Their directory shows each professional’s name, contact information, accreditations, and more information about their practices. You can also search by insurance, sexuality, gender, age, language, faith, type of therapy, and even more specific filters.
      • American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator14: The American Psychological Association (APA) also provides listings of psychologists in your area, all of which are at a doctoral level. That means that they all hold a Ph.D., PsyD, or an EdD as opposed to a Masters in Social Work, which many of the professionals on the Psychology Today listings may have. On the APA website, you can search by practice area, insurance, treatment methods, age, sexual orientation, nationality, gender or religion specialization, languages spoken, and more.

Recap

Although cyberbullying is relatively common, it’s good to know that it hasn’t increased during the pandemic, despite the increased Internet usage. While there are ways you can prevent cyberbullying, if your child is cyberbullied, it’s not the end for them. Rather, with the right emotional support and resources, your child can overcome cyberbullying and go on to become a happy and normal adult.