Online Bullying

Online Bullying

Unlike previous generations where peer bullying stopped when the child left school at the end of the day, the 24/7 nature of communication today means that children can be subjected to bullying without any break from it. An OECD study in 2019 found that headteachers in England are more likely to face problems with pupils bullying online and misusing social media than in any other developed country. Read More

Online bullying can happen through websites or through apps on devices such as smartphones. Data on the extent of online bullying varies a great deal, but the OSA’s own survey of almost 5,000 Key Stage 3 pupils in the 2020-2021 academic year found that 18% had been bullied online at some point, with the figure falling to 6% when asked if they had been bullied online in the past month. These were both increases on results from the previous year.

Types of online bullying

Online bullying can take a number of forms:


Not including people in activities and discussions has always been a less direct form of bullying. For children today, this can take the forms of not being included in group chats or through the use of social media to taunt children not invited to events such as parties. Such exclusion is sometimes termed ‘relational aggression‘.

A recent study in the United States found that students between the ages of 11 and 15 reported being exposed to 33 acts of relational aggression during a typical week. Read More


Technology can be used to send abusive messages through social media, messaging apps and text messages. At times these messages are sent anonymously. Children may claim that abuse they have sent is ‘just a joke’ but it is important that they understand that it is unlikely to be perceived that way by the recipient.

There is a growing trend amongst children for such abuse to take place through ‘baiting groups’ where users are encouraged en masse to post abusive messages about an individual or group of people.


Outing involves the sharing of private and/or personal information about the victim without their permission.


Trolls search online platforms looking for people to provoke, upset and get a reaction from. This will often involve the use of bad language and extremist views. A relevant example involving children came in July 2020 when a 12-year-old child was arrested by police investigating a number of racist Twitter messages directed at footballer Wilfried Zaha. Read More


Online bullies may try to get their victim into trouble by creating fake accounts in their name or by logging into their online accounts if they know the account details. They will then post messages which are likely to embarrass the victim or get them into trouble in some way.

An example of this practice came in September 2019 when a teenager was jailed for impersonating an ex-boyfriend online and sending large numbers of abusive messages about/to herself in an attempt to get him into trouble. Read More

Possible consequences for the victim

Ditch the Label’s 2020 annual report investigated the impact of bullying on children. Some headline statistics from this research is shown below:

  • 45% felt depressed
  • 33% had suicidal thoughts
  • 26% self-harmed
  • 20% truanted from school
  • 12% developed an eating disorder
  • 11% attempted suicide

Read More

Possible consequences for the bully

As bullying is generally peer-on-peer, to reduce instances of bullying it is important that children are taught about the possible consequences for the bully. As such, children should be taught that:

  • Online bullying is illegal under a number of laws so can result in police involvement.
  • Exclusion and permanent exclusion from school for online bullying is possible.
  • Having a negative digital footprint can influence how you are perceived and even hinder job hunting or University applications later in life.

Advice for your children

There are actions children can take to reduce their risk of falling victim to online bullying.

  • Don’t overshare -Posting excessive quantities of pictures and personal information may attract negative attention and give bullies material to use against you.
  • Think before posting – How will others perceive what you are thinking about posting and how might they react?
  • Check privacy settings – Limiting the number of people who can see posts reduces vulnerability to online bullying.
  • Avoid more dangerous apps – Use of some apps (such as anonymous messaging apps) can make it easier for bullies to target children.
  • Look out for others – ‘Ditch the label’ are encouraging children to be ‘upstanders, not bystanders’ when they see others being bullied to create a more positive and supportive digital world.

Unfortunately, even if a child follows the steps above it is still possible that they might fall victim to online bullying. In such cases they should be encouraged to:

  • Understand that it is not their fault and that bullying of any kind is never acceptable.

  • Tell somebody.

  • Take screenshots and collect evidence of the bullying messages received.

Health issues

Digital devices, particularly smartphones, have become such an integral component of the day-to-day lives of many children that attention is turning to the physical and mental health issues that could result.

As their bodies are still growing, children are more vulnerable to many of the physical health risks technology can pose. In addition, as children are prone to impulsive behaviours and their decision-making skills are still developing, they are also more vulnerable to the following physical and mental health issues.

  • Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) caused by spending too long using digital devices. This is particularly the case with smaller devices which are less ergonomically designed. ‘Text thumb’ (also known as ‘smartphone thumb’) is an RSI condition of the thumbs many children suffer which is caused by excessive use of smartphones. Read More

  • The weight of the head when looking down at a smartphone creates a great deal of pressure on the neck and spine. This has resulted in a condition referred to as ‘text neck’ which can lead to headaches, and pains in the neck and back. Over time this can even lead to permanent damage and curvature of the spine. Read More
  • Extended use of display screens, particularly in dark conditions, can result in headaches and strained eyes. Over time this can lead to permanent damage. This is being used to help explain the rapidly growing levels of myopia (short-sightedness) in the population. For example, myopia is twice as common in primary school children as it was 50 years ago. Read More

  • The correct amount of sleep (around nine hours for teenagers and more for younger children) is an essential component of healthy living. Failure to enable a child to have the correct amount of sleep can result in both physical and mental health issues. However, access to digital devices before sleep and having a digital device in a bedroom at night is being found to dramatically reduce the amount of quality sleep that children get. Read More

  • There is a well-documented rise in levels of depression amongst children and teenagers, with some even classing this as an epidemic. The underlying causes of this are incredibly varied and complex, but many studies indicate a correlation between the rise of teen depression and the rise of smartphones and social media. Read More

  • Related to depression is the rise in suicide and self-harm levels amongst children. The well-publicised case of Molly Russell has highlighted the impact self-harm and suicide content online can have on vulnerable children. Read More

  • Body Dysmorphic DisorderAccording to the NHS, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where a person worries about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others. It is a condition which is most common in teenagers and young adults. The condition is linked to eating disorders, depression and suicidal thoughts. Read More

    Few studies claim that social media causes BDD, but many indicate it may amplify the condition and provide a means of reinforcing feelings about self-image. Seeing others looking seemingly ‘perfect’ and apps and filters which allow users to alter their own appearance can be damaging.

    Members of the UK government clearly think the link between BDD and social media is sufficiently strong to require action, resulting in the ‘Body Image Bill’ being introduced to Parliament. If it becomes law it will require advertisers and influencers to label images which have been digitally altered. Read More

Advice for your children

In all health issues relating to the use of digital technology, the general advice for reducing vulnerability is always to simply reduce screen time.

Avoiding having a digital device in the bedroom at night and having screen-free time before bed is also advisable.

However, where you notice children experiencing any of the problems described on the previous slides, this moves beyond the remit of guidance that school staff can provide and parents/carers should be encouraged to seek appropriate professional guidance. Liaise with a member of our school’s safeguarding team (DSL or Deputy DSL) to discuss your concerns.

More information about our school e-safety provision is here.

Share this post