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Online Bullying: Signs, Symptoms and Effects

Online bullying, also known as cyber bullying, is unfortunately a growing problem in America.

It is bullying that happens via email, texts, chat room exchanges, social media posts or on other digital methods of communication. It is consistent with traditional bullying in that it involves repeated aggression and an imbalance of power.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Cyberbullying

There are several signs to look out for concerning cyber bullying. If your child is a target of cyber bullying he or she may exhibit any of the following examples:

  • School avoidant
  • Withdraws from previously enjoyed activities
  • Depressed
  • Constant mood swings
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Anxious
  • Appears visibly upset after using the cell phone, computer and/ or engaging in other social media arenas
  • Unexpectedly stops using internet devices
  • Poor sleep habits

A child that may be cyber bullying others may exhibit any of the following examples:

  • Isolation from family members
  • Secretive behaviors in relation to their internet devices
  • Increasingly withdrawn
  • Demonstrates violent tendencies
  • Insensitive toward other teens
  • Preoccupied with being popular
  • Uses several online accounts that are not their own
  • Will not share or discuss what they are doing online
  • Gets irrationally upset when unable to use a device
  • Engages in online activity at all hours of the night

Every situation is different and it is important to note that the above examples may occur in any combination. Additionally, many of the examples may appear to be normal teenage behaviors, and not all teens that exhibit the above examples will be connected to cyber bullying. It can be difficult to identify whether or not your child is connected to cyber bullying without being intrusive, overly suspicious or a helicopter parent. However, the short and long-term effects from cyber bullying can be significant. If concern arises due to noticing some of the above examples, it is essential to create an open a line of communication. Whether your teen is exhibiting bullying behaviors or is the target of cyber bullying both are cries for help, respectively.

Effects Of Cyberbullying

Cyber bullying can affect many people, not just the target of the bullying and the teen exhibiting bullying behaviors, but also the friends and family members of both young people. Adolescents that are bullied may experience many possible short-effects, such as:

  • Health complaints
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased academic achievement
  • Lack of sleep
  • Aggression
  • Friendship challenges
  • Low self-esteem

The above examples affect teens that are the target of cyber bullying in the short-term, but they may also persist in the long-term, having detrimental physical and/ or social effects as well as putting teens at higher risk for mental health issues.

Young people who engage in cyber bullying behaviors are also at risk for short and long-term effects. They are more likely to:

  • Engage in risky and dangerous behaviors
  • Exhibit violent behaviors
  • Vandalize property
  • Fall behind in school, or drop out
  • Struggle with substance abuse or addiction
  • Engage in early sexual activity

The cycle of abuse is persistent. Young people who bully others are more likely to seek partnerships in their adulthood that are abusive, which have an entirely additional set of detrimental effects and consequences. It is critical to address cyber bullying as soon as possible, for both a teen exhibiting bullying behaviors as well as a teen being targeted.

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family.


  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families: Bullying. No. 80; 2011 March.
  • “Hazing and its consequences.” Hazing 2018.
  • Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (978-1483349930).
  • Lohmann, R.C., and J.V. Taylor. The Bullying Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal with Social Aggression and Cyberbullying. Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, May 2013.

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