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Assessing the Severity of Cyberbullying: A Guide for Adults

Assessing the Severity of Cyberbullying: A Guide for Adults

Cyberbullying ranges from mild disagreements among peers to severe, prolonged harassment that can have devastating effects on a child's mental and emotional well-being. For parents, teachers, and guardians, distinguishing between a fleeting online squabble and serious cyber harassment is crucial for providing appropriate support. This article outlines how to assess the severity of a cyberbullying incident and offers guidance on what steps to take.

Understanding the Spectrum of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to, hurtful comments, sharing of private information, impersonation, and exclusion from online groups. The context, frequency, and impact of these actions can help determine the severity of the situation.

Signs of Less Severe Cyberbullying

  • Isolated Incidents: Single or infrequent negative comments or actions that don't continue over a period.

  • Peer Disagreements: Arguments that arise from misunderstandings or disagreements among friends, which may resolve naturally over time.

  • Minor Impact: The bullying doesn't significantly affect the child's emotional state, social life, or willingness to attend school.

Indicators of Severe Cyberbullying

  • Prolonged and Persistent: The bullying occurs over an extended period, showing a pattern of harassment.

  • Public and Widespread: Harmful messages or images are shared publicly or with a large audience, intended to shame or humiliate.

  • Significant Emotional Distress: The victim shows signs of severe emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, or mentioning self-harm.

  • Threats of Violence: The cyberbullying includes threats of physical harm against the child or their loved ones.

  • Invasion of Privacy: The bullying involves sharing personal information, photos, or videos without consent, leading to a breach of privacy.

Guidelines for Assessing the Severity

  1. Document Everything: Encourage your child to keep a record of all bullying messages, posts, or other evidence. This documentation can help assess the frequency and content of the bullying.

  2. Communicate Openly: Have a non-judgmental conversation with your child about their feelings and perceptions of the situation. Understanding their perspective is key to gauging the impact.

  3. Observe Changes in Behavior: Look for signs of distress, changes in social behavior, academic performance, or any signs mentioned previously.

  4. Consider the Source: Determine if the bullying is coming from known individuals or anonymous sources. Bullying from a close friend can have a different impact than that from a stranger or larger group.

What to Do in Cyberbullying Incidents with Children and Teens

For Less Severe Cases

  • Promote Resolution Skills: Encourage your child to resolve minor disputes amicably, teaching them communication and conflict resolution skills.

  • Monitor the Situation: Keep an eye on the interactions without immediately stepping in, allowing children to handle minor issues with your guidance.

  • Set Digital Boundaries: Discuss and implement safe online practices, including privacy settings and when to block or report individuals.

For Severe Cases

  • Report the Bullying: Use the evidence gathered to report the bullying to the relevant social media platforms, internet service providers, or even law enforcement if there are threats of violence.

  • Inform the School: If the cyberbullying involves schoolmates, inform the school so they can monitor the situation and provide support.

  • Seek Professional Help: Consider counseling for your child to help them cope with the emotional distress caused by severe bullying.

  • Legal Advice: In cases of severe harassment, defamation, or threats, seeking legal advice to understand your options might be necessary.


Assessing the severity of cyberbullying is a nuanced process that requires careful consideration of the context, frequency, and impact of the incident. By staying informed, maintaining open lines of communication, and taking appropriate action based on the severity of the situation, adults can provide the support and intervention necessary to protect and empower children facing cyberbullying.


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