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5 Ways Cyber Bullying is Different than Face-to-Face Bullying

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Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message On Mobile PhoneMuch has been said about cyber bullying, and how social media outlets have impacted the lives of teenagers. How do these new methods of bullying differ from their face-to-face counterparts? In what ways do the teenagers on the receiving end of these bullying experiences process the experiences?

Today’s insights on this topic come from Family Institute staff clinician Hollie Sobel, PhD, who runs a therapy group for adolescents.


While social media can serve to augment peer relationships in adolescence, it can also provide a forum for negative exchanges that can be quite hurtful. Teenagers can’t emotionally process these painful experiences in the same way they do their face-to-face equivalents. There aren’t the same opportunities to work it out online. Here a few of the ways in which cyber bulling differs from the bullying adolescents experience in school cafeterias or at parties:

  1. The victim can’t see the offender. In fact, sometimes the offender is anonymous, meaning that he/she could be anyone. There’s even the potential it could be someone whom the victim considers to be a friend which can increase fear, frustration and feelings of powerlessness.
  1. The victim can’t see his/her supporters. When bullying occurs online, the victim can’t see or feel the responses of people who may come to his/her aid, rendering that aid less resonant.
  1. The online environment is perfect for bullying. The quick pace and lack of personal contact involved in cyber bullying allows for more people to join in the taunting in active ways they may not do in person. At the same time, the wide pool of onlookers the Internet provides makes people less likely to step in, as they often assume someone else will defend the victim.
  1. Online content stays put. Negative statements made on-line are more pervasive than those made in person, with little escape, and can involve images and/or video that can be more invasive and permanent than face-to-face taunting.
  1. Teens often assume parents can’t help. Many teens think their parents or teachers will make the situation worse by bringing more attention to it. It’s important for parents to provide emotional support and continue to monitor their kids’ activities online—otherwise they may be unaware of the bullying.


Hollie Sobel, PhD, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, where she has specialization in conducting diagnostic, psychoeducational, and personality testing batteries to primarily children/adolescents with a variety of psychiatric and medical diagnoses. She also sees families and individuals at the Institute’s downtown Chicago location. To learn more about Hollie Sobel, PhD, or to make an appointment, please visit our website.


The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health counseling for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about our services on our website.

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