Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


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If your child is cyberbullied
Safety tips

bullyingBullying has been around forever, but when you add email, blogs, instant messaging, mobile phones and other electronic methods, bullying takes on an entirely new dimension.  Cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyber stalking are all terms for ways in which those who wish to hurt others, for whatever reason, use online tools to do so.

Cyberbullies can deliver an onslaught of accusations and threats through instant and text messages, email, or cell phones at any time of the day or night.  Bullies can steal and alter photos in damaging ways or add derogatory comments; they can then post them on social networking sites (such as MySpace) or send them to the target's friends and family.  Sometimes, pretending to be the target, they create fake blogs to create trouble with the target's friends or post embarrassing videos.  Because cyberbullies can remain anonymous, they don't have to be bigger or stronger to harass others.

Though the focus in the press is on cyberbullying among children and teens, cyberbullying affects people of all ages.  Cyberbullying of co-workers, managers, seniors, and exes are unfortunately common problems.

The full scope of cyberbullying is difficult to measure because of under-reporting.  However, we do know that nearly one in six U.S. children grades six to ten (that’s 3.2 million students) are targets of online bullying every year.

text messageWhat to do if you or your child is cyberbullied

Often young targets of bullying are told they should "just ignore it" or "toughen up." Instead of dismissing them, they need your support when they speak up about online abuse.

Make sure your child understands that it is a myth that "weaklings tattle."  In reality, those who tell are the ones who are not willing to be bullied.  Speaking out and getting help are positive declarations that they deserve to be treated better.

Cyberbullying directly affects the emotional well-being of both targets and bullies.  Every effort should be made to find the bully to hold them accountable for their actions and to help them change their behavior.

To help someone who is being cyberbullied:

  • If you feel that you or your child is in any way unsafe, call the police.  Do not hesitate or wait to see if the abuse will stop.
  • If you or your children feel any personal threat, or someone stalks or continually harasses you, report them to the website where you are experiencing abuse.  If the online service does not provide the support you need, change services and let them know why you changed. Reputable companies should have an easily discoverable report abuse function.
  • Report abuse to your Internet service provider (ISP) or cell phone company, and follow any instructions for documenting the problem and taking action against the abuser.
  • Many services--blog sites, chat rooms, instant messaging services--have moderators and methods to report abuse or ways to help you block undesirable people from contacting you.
  • If the cyberbullying is related to a school or work environment, report it to the school or employer.  They should have strict policies and act on them quickly.

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Six safety tips to avoid or deal with online bullying

Follow these steps to avoid or cope with cyberbullying:

  • Keep personal information (address, phone number, etc.), feelings, or personal photos private so a bully can’t abuse them.
  • Use technology tools to block anyone whose behavior is inappropriate or threatening in any way.
  • Do not answer phone calls or read messages, email, or comments from cyberbullies, but do set them aside in case they are needed by authorities as evidence or to take action.  Instruct your kids to do the same.
  • Check in with your children periodically to ask whether they are being bullied on the computer, their cell phones or through online games.  Encourage your children to report bullying to you and take action on their behalf.  Don’t dismiss their problems or blame them for not being tough enough.
  • Make sure your children know why they should never bully others, and make it clear what the consequences will be if they do.  Some parents of bullies tend to minimize or dismiss the behavior of their child.  They consider such behavior as being "just a phase," or say "kids will be kids."  Not only does this point of view utterly disregard the tremendous damage done to targets, it also fails to recognize the very dangerous path bullies themselves walk.  Those who bully in school face higher rates of issues with alcoholism, imprisonment, failed relationships, and failure at work.

The National Crime Prevention Council has excellent video resources to help you and your families understand the impact of cyberbullying.  Many are also available in Spanish.


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