Cyberbullying: A Pediatrician’s Role in the Digital Age

Due to the recent explosion of hand-held technology over the past 2 decades, a new form of bullying has emerged called “Cyberbullying”. This type of bullying utilizes electronic means of communication such as text messaging, email, websites, or social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to victimize and cause a power imbalance between peers. Pediatricians should identify signs of cyberbullying and provide appropriate anticipatory guidance and resources to both parents and patients.

What’s the problem?

Bullying via technology can be especially harmful as the victim is easily “visible,” the perpetrator may remain anonymous and there is a larger potential audience. Additionally, the internet possesses a type of permanence, is continuous (inhibiting escape by the victim), and often difficult for adults to notice. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, the number of victimized teens has increased from 18% in 2007 to just under 34% in 2016. Of note, teens that identify as LGBTQ, 55.2% report they have experienced cyberbullying.

What can I do as a physician?

  1. Identify Cyberbullying:
  • Red Flags that a child/teen maybe a victim of cyberbullying:
    • Poor school attendance and/or performance
    • School avoidance; especially with somatic complaints (stomach/head ache)
    • Sudden disinterest in activates that were previously enjoyed
    • Noticeable increase or decrease in electronic device usage
    • Hiding screen or device when others are near
    • Avoiding discussion about what they’re doing on their device
    • Threatening to hurt self or others
  • Ask Parents directly

As a reminder, red flags for bullying may also be signs of:

  • ADHD or learning disabilities
  • Child abuse or unstable home environment
  • Psychiatric disorders including: mood, personality, or conduct disorders
  • Substance abuse


  1. Provide Anticipatory Guidance for Parents:
  • Keep open and honest communication with kids
  • Routine monitoring of child/teen’s social media account, review text threads, and emails
  • Know your child’s username and passwords for email and social media
  • Establish rules about appropriate digital behavior, content, and applications
  • Stay up to date on the latest social media platforms and digital slang
  • Maintain a supportive home environment and offer routine emotional support
  • Serve as role models for healthy behavior and relationships
  • Report to local law enforcement when activities involve: threats of violence, hate crimes or stalking, and child pornography/ sexual explicit messages or photos


  1. Provide Anticipatory Guidance to Teens:
  • Encourage teens to speak up if they either witness or become a victim of bullying
  • Take a trusted friend with you when reporting bullying to an adult
  • Emphasize to teens that bullying is NOT a “rite of passage”
  • Encourage teens to include known victims in group activities and provide opportunities for them to make friends
  • Keep an open and honest communication with parents


  1. Increase Parents and Teens Awareness of Resources:

Patrick J. Nolan, M.D.



  • Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Bartkiewicz, M. J., Boesen, M. J., & Palmer, N. A. (2012). The 2011 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.
  • Gosling MD, Amanda, Lori Ellis MD, and John M. Levinthal MD. “Bullying .” Yale Primary Care Pediatrics Curriculum , Yale Pediatrics, 2009.

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