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The Cyber-Change in Bullying 

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text MessageSocial media can be a great friend or an incredible foe. While it can deepen personal relationships, it can also turn into a forum for bullying.

In recent years, bullying has changed from face-to-face contact to online fighting. The rate of cyberbullying has increased to approximately 14%.

Today’s insights on this topic come from Family Institute staff clinician Hollie Sobel, PhD.

Cyberbullying online takes away the opportunity to talk things out. But why does cyberbullying create so much more hardship and pain? Oftentimes, teenagers can’t emotionally process these painful experiences in the same way they do their face-to-face confrontations. Those being bullied may experience academic problems, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

Here are 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. Oftentimes, the offender is anonymous, meaning that he/she could be anyone, even someone whom the victim considers to be a friend which can increase fear, frustration, hopelessness, and feelings of powerlessness. It also makes it easier for the aggressor to hide behind the mask of anonymity.
  2. 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. It might also hurt the victim if their friends don’t speak up on their behalf and defend them.
  3. 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. Parents need to provide emotional support. Many parents are unaware of the bullying; be sure to monitor your child’s online activities.
  4. Online content stays put. Like all things online, these hurtful comments, videos and/or pictures remain online. Unlike face-to-face taunting, cyberbullying can be more invasive and permanent.
  5. The online environment is perfect for bullying. The quick pace and lack of personal contact involved in cyberbullying allows for more people to join in the taunting in active ways they may not do in person.

This year, the bullying prevention statute in IL was amended to address cyberbullying – even if it does not occur at the school – as long as there is a substantial disruption to the educational process. This includes discipline of the perpetrator, and provision of information on services at school and in the community to the victim.


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 in Evanston, Chicago, Northbrook and Westchester. Learn more about our services on our website.


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