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Cyberbullying myths and realities
Russell A. Sabella
, Justin W. Patchin
, Sameer Hinduja
Florida Gulf Coast University, Counseling Department, 10501 FGCU BLVD S, Fort Myers, FL 33965-6565, United States
Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, 105 Garﬁeld Avenue, Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004, United States
School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Florida Atlantic University, 5353 Parkside Drive, Jupiter, FL 33458-2906, United States
Available online 3 August 2013
Bullying has long been a concern of youth advocates (e.g., educators, counselors, researchers, policy mak-
ers). Recently, cyberbullying (bullying perpetrated through online technology) has dominated the head-
lines as a major current-day adolescent challenge. This article reviews available empirical research to
examine the accuracy of commonly-perpetuated claims about cyberbullying. The analysis revealed sev-
eral myths about the nature and extent of cyberbullying that are being fueled by media headlines and
unsubstantiated public declarations. These myths include that (a) everyone knows what cyberbullying
is; (b) cyberbullying is occurring at epidemic levels; (c) cyberbullying causes suicide; (d) cyberbullying
occurs more often now than traditional bullying; (e) like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a rite of
passage; (f) cyberbullies are outcasts or just mean kids; and (g) to stop cyberbullying, just turn off your
computer or cell phone. These assertions are clariﬁed using data that are currently available so that adults
who work with youth will have an accurate understanding of cyberbullying to better assist them in effec-
tive prevention and response. Implications for prevention efforts in education in light of these revelations
are also discussed and include effective school policies, educating students and stakeholders, the role of
peer helper programs, and responsive services (e.g., counseling).
Ó2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
1. Introduction . . . ..................................................................................................... 2703
2. Myth 1: everyone knows what cyberbullying is . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................................................... 2704
3. Myth 2: cyberbullying is occurring at epidemic levels . . . . . . . ............................................................... 2705
4. Myth 3: cyberbullying causes suicide . . .................................................................................. 2705
5. Myth 4: cyberbullying occurs more often now than traditional bullying . . . . . . . . . . . ............................................ 2706
6. Myth 5: like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a rite of passage all teens experience. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ............................ 2706
7. Myth 6: cyberbullies are outcasts or just mean kids . . . . . . . . . ............................................................... 2706
8. Myth 7: to stop cyberbullying, just turn off your computer or cell phone. . . . . . . . . . . ............................................ 2707
9. Armed with accurate information about cyberbullying, educators can help . . . . . . . . . ............................................ 2707
9.1. Effective school policies . .......................................... .............................................. 2707
9.2. Educating school staff and parents. . . . . . . . . ................... ..................................................... 2708
9.3. Educating students . . . . . ................................................... ..................................... 2708
9.4. Peer helper programs . . . .... ............................................................................... ..... 2708
9.5. Responsive services . . . . . ....................... ................................................................. 2708
10. Conclusion and future directions . . . . .................................................................................. 2709
References . . . . ..................................................................................................... 2709
Teens now have in their hands the same amount of computing
ability that, just a decade ago, only large businesses could afford.
How does a young person manage ever-increasing access to tech-
nology and, by extension, the power it imbues? Most students
0747-5632/$ - see front matter Ó2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 239 590 7782.
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (R.A. Sabella), firstname.lastname@example.org (J.W.
Patchin), email@example.com (S. Hinduja).
Tel.: +1 715 836 4058.
Tel.: +1 561 799 8227.
Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 2703–2711
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Computers in Human Behavior
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh
Author's personal copy
use technology responsibly, but some have chosen to use it in care-
less and inappropriate ways by hurting, humiliating, embarrassing,
and personally attacking others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012b; Kowal-
ski, Limber, & Agatston, 2008; Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). This phe-
nomenon has been termed cyberbullying, which has been deﬁned
as ‘‘willful and repeated harm inﬂicted through the use of computers,
cell phones, and other electronic devices’’ (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009,
p. 5, 2012a).
In several ways, cyberbullying may be perceived as more sinis-
ter than ‘‘off-line’’ (i.e., traditional or schoolyard) bullying because
the attacks can be more intense, frequent, unsuspecting, and seem-
ingly difﬁcult to stop (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). Compared to tra-
ditional bullies, cyberbullies are not restrained by space or time.
Some cyberbullies may hide under a cloak of anonymity, in essence
allowing them to easily attack others at any time and from any
place they want (Kowalski et al., 2008). With modern technology,
cyberbullying can occur at the ‘‘speed of thought’’ and in front of
much larger audiences than those behaviors conﬁned to the
schoolyard. Online bullies also can potentially be even more cruel
than off-line bullies because, in addition to words, they can incor-
porate as part of their attacks a rich array of media including
sounds, altered photos, text, video, slide shows, and polls (Li,
2007; Sabella, 2008).
Though it occurs in cyberspace, this problem should not be triv-
ialized since it has been linked to real-world consequences. For
example, research has found that cyberbullying is associated with
negative emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, embarrass-
ment, or fear (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007; Patchin & Hinduja, 2011;
Ybarra & Mitchell, 2007), and these emotions have been correlated
with delinquency and interpersonal violence among youth and
young adults (Aseltine, Gore, & Gordon, 2000; Broidy & Agnew,
1997; Mazerolle, Burton, Cullen, Evans, & Payne, 2000; Mazerolle
& Piquero, 1998). Furthermore, cyberbullying has been linked to
low self-esteem and suicidal ideation, recent school difﬁculties,
assaultive conduct, substance use, carrying a weapon to school,
and traditional bullying offending and victimization (Hinduja &
Patchin, 2007, 2008, 2009; Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter,
2012; Ybarra, Diener-West, & Leaf, 2007; Ybarra & Mitchell,
2004a). It is for these reasons that youth-serving professionals
should seek to gain and share knowledge related to the identiﬁca-
tion, prevention, and response of this problem.
One of the dangers, however, of doing cyberbullying risk-reduc-
tion work is that, in the course of educating students, staff, parents,
and others, we can unwittingly contribute to the ‘‘hype’’ generated
by a mass media that focuses on the dramatic and erratic. Recent
headlines can serve to fuel what may be a distorted and artiﬁ-
cially-inﬂated view of cyberbullying – one not based on reality (Ma-
gid, 2011). Without a careful review of the professional literature,
counseling or educating students about cyberbullying may uninten-
tionally stem from rumor or extreme and rare cases. Without care-
fully differentiating fact from fallacy, our good intentions can lead to
erroneous decisions, harmful attitudes, and ineffective program-
matic strategies (Kowalski et al., 2008; Willard, 2007a, 2010).
When working with students or others within the school com-
munity, youth educators (which may include, and from hereafter,
refers to school counselors, researchers, policymakers, and, in gen-
eral, youth advocates) must take care to provide accurate informa-
tion and guidance supported by existing research. In this article,
we seek to identify and clarify common myths surrounding cyber-
bullying by presenting research-supported realities that call into
question some of the conventional wisdom concerning this prob-
lem. The myths included in this article were identiﬁed through var-
ious sources. First, we conducted an extensive review of the
available professional literature and mass media publications. Sec-
ond, we have heard these myths frequently professed through our
work with thousands of educators and students while providing
consultation, training, and policy development in the area of cyber-
safety. Finally, we informally surveyed the online community
called the Embrace Civility Network (formerly the Youth Risk Online
Professional Network) – a consortium of over 250 recognized ex-
perts in the ﬁeld, as well as educators, counselors, attorneys,
CEOs/CSOs of online safety organizations, scholars, and legislators.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive as there are unquestion-
ably other statements that frequently appear in popular media and
professional literature that lack adequate substantiation. The cur-
rent work, however, is intended to clarify some of the more com-
monly-referenced ‘‘facts’’ about cyberbullying. It should also be
acknowledged that even the empirical research in this area is still
evolving and therefore needs to be considered with a critical eye on
operationalization and methodology. We begin with myth #1
which discusses this issue and its implications for our understand-
ing of cyberbullying even further.
2. Myth 1: everyone knows what cyberbullying is
Many individuals may believe that they already fully under-
stand and can recognize what cyberbullying is. The reality,
however, is that there exists much variability in the way cyberbul-
lying is deﬁned and considered – even among cyberbullying
researchers (Menesini & Nocentini, 2009; Oblad, 2012; Ybar-
ra,Boyd, Korchmaros, & Oppenheim, 2012). As discussed by Patchin
and Hinduja (2012), some researchers use very broad deﬁnitions of
the problem that include every possible experience with any form
of online aggression. Others focus only on speciﬁc types of harm,
such as humiliation or threats to one’s physical safety, without also
including other forms like name-calling, insults, or social exclu-
sion. Some cover any and all media and venues through which
cyberbullying can occur, while others may leave out a few technol-
ogies (such as webcams) or environments (such as in online gam-
ing networks). To confuse matters even further, in many languages
other than English, there is no equivalent word for the term ‘‘bul-
lying,’’ which can affect the reported prevalence rates, especially
when considering data collected internationally (Craig, Henderson,
& Murphy, 2000; Smorti,Menesini, & Smith, 2003).
The varied conceptualizations are not surprising because, in
reality, a continuum of behaviors exists, ranging from annoying
or disappointing to severe, persistent, and pervasive attacks on
others. At what point on the continuum does an incident make
the leap from being one of poor judgment to one that we would
call cyberbullying – or even one that may be criminal? The answers
to these questions are still unclear and in need of further formal in-
quiry and examination.
One problem with not having a reliable and widely-accepted
deﬁnition of cyberbullying is that the inconsistencies lead to differ-
ent measurements of the nature and extent of harassment in
cyberspace, which at best provides an incomplete picture and at
worst leads to misinformation and confusion (Mishna, Pepler, &
Wiener, 2006; Patchin & Hinduja, 2012).Another problem with
inconsistent deﬁnitions is that the terms ‘‘bullying’’ and ‘‘cyberbul-
lying’’ are arguably now being overused among both adults and
children alike. For example, some students are claiming that they
are being bullied because they were not invited to a popular party,
because they were accidentally pushed in the hallways, or perhaps
teased, lied about, or made fun of one time (Williams & Guerra,
2007; Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2007). It is important for all
members of the school community to understand that peer conﬂict
does not equate to bullying. To reiterate, arguing, bantering back-
and-forth, ignoring, roughhousing and ﬁghting are not necessarily
instances of bullying, whether they occur online or via traditional
venues (Willard, 2007c). Instead, cyberbullying, liketraditional bul-
lying, is characterized by intention, repetition, harm, and power
imbalance (Patchin & Hinduja, 2006; Wolak et al., 2007). Not every
2704 R.A. Sabella et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 2703–2711
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conﬂict meets these criteria (Baas, de Jong, & Drossaert, 2013).
Educators should help students understand and differentiate be-
tween situations that would and would not be considered bullying,
perhaps through the presentation of examples, scenarios, and even
role-playing exercises (see e.g., Sabella, 2012b).
3. Myth 2: cyberbullying is occurring at epidemic levels
Consider these actual news headlines and stories:
‘‘Cyber bullying is a growing epidemic in communities, including
ours’’ (Chin, 2011).
‘‘Cyberbullying: A National Epidemic’’ (Education Insider, 2010).
‘‘Cyber bullying spiralling out of control in schools’’ (McDougall,
‘‘Curing Utah’s ‘silent epidemic’: Finding a solution to teen suicide.
‘‘Child advocates say a growing epidemic of ‘‘cyberbullying’’ — the
use of computers, cell phones, social-networking sites and other
technology to threaten or humiliate others’’ (Billitteri, 2008).
These are just a few examples of the many headlines that are
seen through mass media that reinforce the notion that both bul-
lying and cyberbullying have reached sweeping proportions. To
be sure, one incident of any form of bullying is too many. However,
making a serious issue such as cyberbullying seem more problem-
atic than it really is, is in itself problematic. First, some students are
apt to believe that if the majority of their peers are being bullied
and bullying others, then it can be considered normative behavior
and consequently ‘‘not a big deal’’ (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012b). Sec-
ond, the purported cyberbullying epidemic seems to be giving our
youth a bad reputation, contributing to what some have referred to
as ‘‘juvenoia’’ (Finkelhor, 2011). Conventional wisdom suggests
that ‘‘kids these days’’ are more violentand less respectful than a
generation ago. It is doubtful that this is true, especially since every
generation seems to think that the youth of today are worse than
when they were growing up. In fact, strong evidence exists to sug-
gest that violence among youth, especially in schools, has actually
decreased in the last decade (Finkelhor, 2013; National Center for
Education Statistics, 2013). Finally, labeling cyberbullying an epi-
demic leads to some level of hysteria which may contribute to
overzealous adults making uninformed and unwise decisions in
an attempt to control youth behavior (e.g., zero-tolerance policies;
taking away cell phones or other access to technology) (Hinduja &
A precise measure of the prevalence of cyberbullying among
teens is impossible to determine, partly related to Myth #1 (incon-
sistent deﬁnitions)but also due to varied methodological ap-
proaches. Some studies ask their teen participants about any
experience with cyberbullying, while others focus on ‘‘online
youth’’ who experience speciﬁc types of high-tech harm within
the previous 30 days. One published study found that 72% of youth
have experienced cyberbullying (Juvonen & Gross, 2008) whereas
other published research has put this number at less than 7%
(Ybarra, 2004; Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004a). The majority of studies
estimate that anywhere from 6% to 30% of teens have experienced
some form of cyberbullying, while the number of youth who admit
to cyberbullying others at some point in their lives ranges from
about 4% to 20% (Patchin & Hinduja, 2012). Of course this means
that 70–80% of youth have not beencyberbullied, and have not
4. Myth 3: cyberbullying causes suicide
Over the last few years, there have been several high-proﬁle
incidents where teenagers and young adults have taken their
own lives in part because of experiences with bullying and cyber-
bullying (Bazelon, 2010; Boyette, 2013; Halligan, 2006; High,
2007; Jones, 2008; Marr & Field, 2001). The viral nature of these
stories in the media is especially troubling because exposure to
news items on suicide has been cited as one of the numerous risk
factors contributing to suicidal behavior (Beautrais, Collings, & Ehr-
hardt, 2005; Hawton & Williams, 2001). Also, the impact of news
media reporting on suicidal behavior appearsto be strongest
among young people (WHO, 2000). Despite these tragedies, the
vast majority of cyberbullying victims do not kill themselves, and
those who do typically have experienced a constellation of stress-
ors and other issues operating in their lives, making it difﬁcult to
isolate the inﬂuence of one speciﬁc personal or social problem as
compared to others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010a).
That said, research has shown that being involved in bullying
(both as a victim and a bully) as a young person increases the risk
for experiencing factors which are associated with suicidal
thoughts, suicidal attempts, and completed suicides (Bauman, Too-
mey, & Walker, 2013; Campbell, Spears, Slee, Butler, & Kift, 2012;
Klomek, Sourander, & Gould, 2010; Klomek et al., 2009; Rigby&
Slee, 1999; Skapinakis et al., 2011). Kim and Leventhal (2008), for
example, conducted a meta-analytical review of 37 different stud-
ies that examined the association between bullying and suicide,
with an emphasis on the strengths and limitations of each of the
study’s research designs. Their review concluded that any partici-
pation in bullying increases risk factors such as depression and
anxiety, which can be associated with suicidal ideation and/or
behaviors in a broad spectrum of youth.
Recently, Hinduja and Patchin (2010a) conducted a study on
teen technology use and misuse involving approximately 2000
randomly-selected middle school students from one of the largest
school districts in the United States. Results showed that youth
who experienced traditional bullying or cyberbullying, as either
an offender or a target, weremore likely to report suicidal thoughts
and to have previously attempted suicide than those who had not
experienced such forms of peer aggression. The authors found that
traditional bullying victims were 1.7 times more likely and tradi-
tional bullying offenders were 2.1 times more likely to have at-
tempted suicide than those who were not traditional victims or
offenders (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010a). Similarly, cyberbullying vic-
tims were 1.9 times more likely and cyberbullying offenders were
1.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who
were not cyberbullying victims or offenders. Winsper, Lereya,
Zanarini, and Wolke (2012) conducted a study that focused on
the prospective link between involvement in bullying (bully, vic-
tim, bully/victim) and subsequent suicide ideation in preadoles-
cent children in the United Kingdom. These authors concluded
that being a target ofbullying, especially as a bully/victim, signiﬁ-
cantly increases the risk of suicide ideation in preadolescent
Given all of this research, one might ask: Why is it a myth that
‘‘cyberbullying causes suicide?’’ The answer to this question lies in
the important difference between the nature of correlation and cau-
sation. While it is true that there exists a relationship between bully-
ing and suicide (a connection or correlation), no conclusive
statistical evidence has shown that a cyberbullying experience di-
rectly ‘‘leads to’’ or causes suicide. As previously stated, most youth
who are cyberbullied do not take their own lives. So, the best that we
can conﬁdently say is that, among some young people, cyberbullying
and suicide may be co-occurring (or are ‘‘co-related’’) with at least
one of many other factors such as depression, social withdrawal, dis-
ability, socialhopelessness, or other psychiatric morbidity (Skapina-
kis et al., 2011). That is, cyberbullying may aggravate the victim’s
already existing vulnerabilities. As Hinduja and Patchin (2010a)
concluded, ‘‘...it is unlikely that experience with cyberbullying by it-
self leads to youth suicide. Rather, it tends to exacerbate instability
R.A. Sabella et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 2703–2711 2705
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and hopelessness in the minds of adolescents already struggling
with stressful life circumstances’’ (p. 217). Unfortunately, some re-
search ﬁndings have shown that the primary focus of news items
in this context is on the technology involved in the cyberbullying
and not the suicide events themselves or other important factors
that may have contributed to the suicides, such as victims’ mental
well-being (Thom et al., 2011).
5. Myth 4: cyberbullying occurs more often now than
Conventional wisdom would have us believe that since technol-
ogy has proliferated over the last decade and stories of cyberbullying
are frequently mentioned in the news, it is likely more prevalent
than traditional, schoolyard bullying. However, research demon-
strates that this is not the case (at least not yet). For example, accord-
ing to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2013) report,
Indicators of School Crime and Safety, (which reported data from
2011), 27.8% of students reported being the victim of bullying during
the school year while only 9% of students had been cyberbullied.
Ybarra et al. (2012) recently found that 25% of students had been
bullied in person while 10% had beenbullied online. Overall, most re-
search demonstrates that cyberbullying still occurs less frequently
than bullying, though that could change in the future. Jones, Mitch-
ell, and Finkelhor (2013) collected data from students across the US
in 2000, 2005, and 2010 and saw a modest but steady increase in
cyberbullying between 2000 and 2010 (from 6% to 11%).
Beran and Li (2007) reviewed several published studies, all of
which suggest that cyberbullying and traditional bullying occur
at a comparable rate. One possible explanation for the similar rates
of traditional bullying and cyberbullying is that there seems to be a
signiﬁcant overlap among students who are involved in both forms
(Beran & Li, 2007; Cross et al., 2009; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008;
Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007; Smith et al., 2008; Vandebosch & Van
Cleemput, 2009; Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004a). For example, Beran
and Li (2007) surveyed 432 students from grades 7–9 in Canadian
schools about their victimization experiences, and found that one-
third of children bullied in cyberspace were also bullied at school.
In addition, Ybarra and Mitchell (2004a) found that many cyber-
bullies were also cybervictims, and that almost half of the cyber-
bullies reported having been victims of traditional bullying.
Recognizing this overlap in behaviors is important, since it affects
decision-making that determines a school’s goals/focus and com-
mitment of resources. Focusing on cyberbullying as a priority at
the expense of addressing traditional bullying is a mistake. Both
should be addressed as different manifestations of the same under-
6. Myth 5: like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a rite of
passage all teens experience
‘‘Boys will be boys.’’ ‘‘It’ll toughen him up.’’ ‘‘It will help her
grow a backbone so she can handle life.’’ ‘‘That which does not kill
you only makes you stronger.’’ These statements are sometimes
used by both children and adults to normalize or minimize hurtful
behavior among children and teens, sometimes even as a way of
coping with cyberbullying after it occurs (Parris, Varjas, Meyers,
& Cutts, 2012). The message that these perspectives send to our
youth is that social cruelty has been common to one degree or an-
other among past generations and, because they survived, experi-
encing bullying is some sort of ritual that we all must go through
during the course of normal maturation. This is simply not true.
In fact, U.S. President Barack Obamacogently emphasized this point
during a conference on preventing bullying at the White House on
March 10th, 2011 when he said:
If there’s one goal of this conference, it’s to dispel the myth that bul-
lying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of grow-
ing up. It’s not. Bullying can have destructive consequences for our
young people. And it’s not something we have to accept. As parents
and students, as teachers and members of the community, we can
take steps – all of us – to help prevent bullying and create a climate
in our schools in which all of our children can feel safe; a climate in
which they all can feel like they belong. As adults, we all remember
what it was like to see kids picked on in the hallways or in the
schoolyard. And I have to say, with big ears and the name that I
have, I wasn’t immune. I didn’t emerge unscathed. But because
it’s something that happens a lot, and it’s something that’s always
been around, sometimes we’ve turned a blind eye to the problem.
We’ve said, ‘‘Kids will be kids.’’ And so sometimes we overlook
the real damage thatbullying can do, especially when young people
face harassment day after day, week after week (2011).
In reality, no matter how prevalent or pervasive bullying has
been in our history, it was not acceptable then and it is not accept-
able now. In her book, Cyberbullying: What Counselors Need to
Know,Bauman (2011) presented a signiﬁcant body of evidence
supporting the idea that there are negative consequences of bully-
ing for all involved youth. She presented various relevant research
studies that demonstrate that victims and bullies have more social,
emotional, behavioral, and academic problems than others who are
not involved. As described above, victims are more likely to suffer
from depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and loneliness, and
these consequences are still detected when the victims are adults.
Various studies that have found that peer rejection, delinquency,
criminality, violence, and suicidal ideation were additionalout-
comes of involvement in bullying (Bauman, 2008; Farrington,
2012; Fekkes, Pijpers, & Verloove-VanHorick, 2004; Hinduja & Pat-
chin, 2007; Mynard, Joseph, & Alexander, 2000; Sharp, 1995;
Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). Having a ‘‘thick skin’’ or even notable
coping skills may not be enough for some youth to navigate the
pain, embarrassment, humiliation, and horror of victimization.
Although many students are resilient and may even summon inner
strength they did not know they had in order to deal with bullying
or cyberbullying, some simply are unable to do so. Besides, there is
no valuable life lesson that one can learn from enduring bullying
that cannot be taught in a more humane way.
7. Myth 6: cyberbullies are outcasts or just mean kids
Some seem to believe that the majority of youth who cyberbully
others simply do it for the sake of inﬂicting harm, as some sort of
antisocial or even sadistic behavior inspired by their online activity
(Finkelhor, 2011). As is often the case, there is a measure of truth to
this, as some adolescent developmental experts and philosophers
view bullying as driven by a need for control and domination by
a child who perceives that his/her actions will lead to greater peer
acceptance and recognition (Adler & Adler, 1995, 1996; Faris &
Felmlee, 2011; Vaillancourt & Hymel, 2006). However, the weight
of the research has shown, instead, that most youth participate
in cyberbullying to get revenge or because they are ‘‘just playin’’’
(König, Gollwitzer, & Steffgen, 2010; Sanders, 2009; Varjas, Talley,
Meyers, Parris & Cutts, 2010). As Elizabeth Englander (2008) con-
cluded after surveying youth who admitted to cyberbullying oth-
ers: ‘‘Cyberbullies themselves identify their own anger and desire for
revenge as the major immediate motive for engaging in cyberbullying.
A second motive is identiﬁed by students who report that they engage
in cyberbullying ‘as a joke.’’’ (p. 8)
It seems that many cyberbullies who retaliate are often angry,
frustrated, or otherwise emotionally distraught and are simply act-
ing out using the technology that is readily at their ﬁngertips. Oth-
ers participate in cyberbullying because they want retribution by
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returning a hurt or injury or to seek justice and teach a lesson. Still
others casually dismiss the gravity of their cyberbullying behaviors
because they do not make the connection between their online
behavior and the ofﬂine consequences. These aggressors have also
been referred to as ‘‘inadvertent’’ cyberbullies (Willard, 2007c) be-
cause, although their postings were intentional, they intended no
harm. At the time, inadvertent cyberbullies believed that what
they were doing was benign, and they were just ‘‘having fun’’ or
‘‘messing around.’’ Although those who are mean to others in real
life often behave similarly online, this is not always the case. In-
stead, some cyberbullies may be perceived among teachers and
peers as kind and responsible students while in school, even when
they could be actively involved in bullying others outside the pur-
view of adults. For example, Hinduja and Patchin (2012b) found
that those students who reported earning grades of mostly A’s
were just as likely to be involved in cyberbullying (both as a target
and a bully) as those students who reported that they typically
earned C’s or D’s. Just because certain students do well academi-
cally does not mean they are less likely to mistreat others. Those
who subscribe to this myth may also mistakenly conclude that
cyberbullies are easily identiﬁed and generally known among stu-
dents and teachers. In fact, some parents and teachers would be
shocked to know that some ‘‘good’’ students are also involved in
the problem behavior.
8. Myth 7: to stop cyberbullying, just turn off your computer or
It may seem logical at ﬁrst to consider turning away from tech-
nology as a means to stopping cyberbullying from occurring (Eng-
lander & Muldowney, 2007). Encouraging youth to turn off or avoid
technology, however, is unrealistic and overall ineffective long
term strategy (Hinduja & Patchin,2009). Technology is ubiquitous
and now integrated in virtually all aspects of their lives (Madden,
Lenhart, Duggan, Cortesi, & Gasser, 2013). Moreover, technology
is an important social and educational tool for teens, and someone
who is being cyberbullied should not have to miss out on all of the
beneﬁts technology has to offer (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012b). Final-
ly, if the target of the cyberbullying didn’t do anything wrong, why
should he or she be punished by not being able to use their favorite
electronic devices? Since when has it been appropriate to blame
the victim? Advising a student to avoid technology in response
to cyberbullying is like advising someone being bullied at school
to quit going to school. Also consider that turning off the computer
or cell phone does not stop many forms of cyberbullying (Hinduja
& Patchin, 2009). A student does not need to be online for someone
to create a mean or hurtful Web page about him or her. Rumors can
be circulated via cell phone or online text messages without the
victim being involved. A harassing online proﬁle can be created
without a target even knowing about it.
We need to acknowledge how essential connected technology is
to teens. In particular, text messaging has become the primary way
that teens reach their friends, surpassing face-to-face contact,
email, instant messaging and voice calling as the go-to daily com-
munication tool for the 14–17 year old age group (Madden et al.,
2013). Being forced to disconnect for an extended period of time
is not a realistic long-term solution. Second, telling a child to
ignore noxious messages and postings can be difﬁcult. Once images
and negative content is witnessed, they cannot be‘‘unwitnessed.’’
Asking a child to simply delete unpleasant content does not solve
the problem either. To the contrary, deleting posts, texts, emails,
or other aggressive content destroys the evidence often needed
to eventually identify and respond to the cyberbully (Kowalski
et al., 2008; Willard, 2007b).
In short, it is clear that avoiding technology will do little to solve
the problem of cyberbullying. Instead, counselors need to educate
students with information and skills they can use to effectively re-
spond when it does happen. These might include blocking harass-
ing messages, removing hurtful content (after it is archived), or
talking with a trusted adult to get additional assistance.
9. Armed with accurate information about cyberbullying,
educators can help
This article has identiﬁed and clariﬁed several myths that are
associated with adolescent cyberbullying. Existing research has
helped to shed empirical light on the conventional wisdom sur-
rounding the experiences of teens online. For instance, we know
that cyberbullying is not an epidemic inducing large numbers of
teens who commit suicide. However, that certainly does not ex-
empt us from addressing it before and when it happens. Cyberbul-
lying is a signiﬁcant problem for many teens, and efforts should be
taken to prevent and respond to it, and to equip youth with ways
that empower them to reduce their own victimization risk (Chibar-
ro, 2007). No one person, professional, or even organization will be
able to effectively accomplish the systematic changes that need to
occur and pervade our society. Cyberbullying risk reduction will
require comprehensive and collaborative efforts among various
youth advocates. School counselors in particularcan play a critical
role and can help in signiﬁcant ways. For instance, Sabella (2012b)
suggests that school counselors take the lead with a comprehen-
sive approach that includes ﬁve areas, all of which have a basis
in empirical support (see e.g., Pearce, Cross, Monks, Waters, & Fal-
coner, 2011; Ttoﬁ & Farrington, 2011). These include: (1) facilitat-
ing the development of effective school policies; (2) educating
parents; (3) educating students; (4) developing peer helper pro-
grams; and (5) providing responsive services such as reporting
and counseling opportunities. These efforts must include all stake
holders such as teachers, school support services, educational lead-
ers, community leaders, legislators, parents, and, of course,
9.1. Effective school policies
According to the American School Counselor Association’s posi-
tion statement about bullying (ASCA, 2005), leadership in the form
of policy development is an appropriate role and responsibility of
the school counselor:
Professional school counselors collaborate with others to promote
safe schools and confront issues threatening school safety. Profes-
sional school counselors encourage the development of policies
supporting a safe school environment, and they provide leadership
to the school by assisting in the design and implementation of
school wide violence prevention activities and programs.
Hinduja and Patchin (2009) also argue that ‘‘one of the most
important steps a district can take to help protect its students
and protect itself from legal liability is to have a clear and compre-
hensive policy regarding bullying and harassment, technology, and
their intersection: cyberbullying’’ (p.188). Forty-nine states have
bullying laws that require schools to have policies about bullying
and most of these now include requirements to address electronic
forms of harassment (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012a). School counselors
can suggest the development of policies as described by Franek
(2006), who stated that all forms of cyberspace harassment either
during school hours or after school hours should not be tolerated.
An anti-cyberbullying policy should also include establishing a
prevention program and an annual assessment of such a program
to determine its effectiveness (Diamanduros, Downs, & Jenkins,
2008; Hamburger, Basile, & Vivolo, 2011). In addition to legislation,
most state departments of education have provided model anti-
R.A. Sabella et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 2703–2711 2707
Author's personal copy
bullying policies (Hinduja & Patchin, 2012a) and the United States
Department of Education released a report, Analysis of State Bully-
ing Laws and Policies (Temple et al., 2012), which can serve as help-
ful references for school counselors towards this end. It is essential
that counselors review and understand their school policy con-
cerning cyberbullying so that they are able to respond to behaviors
within the appropriate framework established by the policy.
9.2. Educating school staff and parents
School counselors also can serve as key players in providing
parents, guardians, and school staff with the professional develop-
ment or training they need to work to reduce the risk of cyberbul-
lying among students (Bauman, 2011; Beale & Hall, 2007; Bhat,
2008; Maher, 2008; Winburn, Niemeyer, & Reysen, 2012). At a fun-
damental level, adults, including teachers and parents, need to
keep pace with new technology to understand how students com-
municate online and how cyberbullying happens. The results of
one study indicated that school adults provide limited help, which
might be caused by their lack of understanding and training in how
to deal with the issue (Li, 2010).
In collaboration with community groups and parent/teacher
associations, school counselors also can enhance the way caretak-
ers protect and inform their children by providing them with solu-
tions from both human/relational and technological perspectives
(Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O’Brennan, 2007). This is especially impor-
tant given that there exists some evidence of a familial pattern to
bullying whereby sometimes multiple children from the same
family (and sometimes within the same school) are identiﬁed bul-
lying perpetrators (Chan, 2006). Human/relational solutions to
reducing cyberbullying include encouraging the development of
relationships that facilitate trust and open lines of communication
(Sabella, 2008, 2012b). School counselors also should encourage
parents to learn about what their children are doing online and
work to better understand the technology they are using. Under-
standing Facebook’s privacy settings, for example, will enable par-
ents and teachers to educate children about how to protect their
personal information to the maximum extent possible (ASCA &
iKeepSafe, 2011). Parents can also monitor the online activities of
their children by being involved in these environments along with
them such as watching a few funny YouTube videos together, ‘‘Sky-
ping’’ with distant family members, using Pinterest to collect their
favorite pieces of online content, or checking out Tumblr blogs
from around the world.
School counselors can also coordinate efforts among educators
and youth advocates to pass along information to parents about
speciﬁc technological solutions (such as ﬁltering, blocking, or
tracking software) that may be helpful in deterring inappropriate
behaviors or in collecting evidence of cyberbullying. To be sure,th-
ese products are never a replacement for active human engage-
ment and intervention. Counselors, parents, and other adults
have an obligation to help children become knowledgeable about
the use (and misuse) of technology, to teach them how to make
good decisions about how they use technology, and to help them
to police themselves (and perhaps each other). Technological solu-
tions can be an effective complement or backup to how youth are
educated and supervised (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004b). These include,
but are not limited to, password protecting home wireless net-
works, using Internet safety services/software, subscribing to a dig-
ital reputation monitoring service, and/or exploring cell phone
parental controls (Kowalski et al., 2008).
9.3. Educating students
In collaboration with other educators, student training (also
known as classroom guidance) should be provided to confront
cyberbullying by including student competencies which help
youth recognize legal and personal consequences of cyberbullying,
improve social problem-solving and anger management skills,
encourage prosocial behavior, and increase the ability to empa-
thize with victims (Bradshaw, Waasdorp, O’Brennan, & Gulemet-
ova, 2011; Hazler, 2006; Limber, Kowalski, & Agatston, 2009;
Lund, Blake, Ewing, & Banks, 2012; Macklem, 2003). Students
who witness or learn about cyberbullying happening to others
should also learn about their responsibilities and how best to sup-
port each other (Li, 2010).
Although an abundance of cyberbullying and Internet safety re-
lated resources are available online, fewsequenced and compre-
hensive lesson plans exist. Moreover, none of these has been
formally evaluated. That said, some promising approaches do exist
(see e.g., Sabella, 2012a for a compilation of recommended cyber-
bullying lesson plans) which include many of the components of
cyberbullying prevention education recommended by other
researchers (e.g., Diamanduros et al., 2008; Hinduja & Patchin,
9.4. Peer helper programs
Together with teachers, parents, and other youth advocates,
school counselors should also take advantage of the expertise that
already exists in their buildings. That is, they can use students to
help educate their classmates about using technology responsibly.
Led by the school counselor, educators can train students towork
with and educate younger peers so that they make wise decisions
online starting at an early age. Students can also work with others
who are ‘‘at risk’’ as well as with those who are experiencing typ-
ical childhood problems and concerns, and thereby play important
roles in both intervention and prevention (ASCA, 2008). Myrick,
Highland, and Sabella (1995) indicated that the advantages of
using peer helpers in general may include: better communication
and relationships among students; the generation of positive sen-
timents and a healthier climate across campus; wider message
delivery, higher visibility, and the promotion of positive public
relations to the school; evaluation of lesson plans, content, or
learning activities by those who likely have the most insight into
what works and what does not; and the provision of platforms
on which peer helpers can model appropriate behaviorfor others
to emulate. Along similar lines, Mustacchi (2009) has eloquently
described how her students assisted her in developing lesson
plans, materials, and ultimately teaching other students about
cyberbullying and other technology related issues:
When I began implementing this curriculum the next fall, I noticed
how much the 8th graders knew and were eager to impart to one
another – with almost desperate urgency. As if riding a roller-
coaster, students relayed stories and advice to one another, hitting
highs and lows at breakneck speed. They were experts in some
aspects of online interaction and risks but complete novices in oth-
ers. I realized that their knowledge and thirst to exchange informa-
tion provided a rare opportunity. So I charged my 8th grade
students with the job of teaching my 6th graders....Their talks,
materials, and activities kept the younger students fully engaged.
They asked questions and got their peers to think and reﬂect, some-
times with creative tactics (p. 80).
9.5. Responsive services
Finally, school counselors, social workers, psychologists and
community mental health workers (those who can provide per-
sonal/social counseling services) should provide help to both
cyberbullies and their targets in the form of responsive services.
2708 R.A. Sabella et al. / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) 2703–2711
Author's personal copy
This refers to speciﬁc activities designed to meet students’ imme-
diate needs and concerns such as individual or small-group coun-
seling and crisis response (ASCA, 2012). Through these
mechanisms, appropriate student support service personnel can
help perpetrators to better understand the consequences of their
actions, ﬁnd better ways to resolve anger and conﬂict, and make
more thoughtful and responsible choices about social interactions
(Beaty &Alexeyev, 2008; Borg, 1998; Camodeca & Goossens, 2004;
Haynie et al., 2001; Pellegrini, Bartini, & Brooks, 1999). Counselors
also can help cyberbullying victims who may need help with issues
of post-traumatic stress. Many counseling approaches exist that
can be helpful in working with students involved in cyberbullying
situations. Sabella (2012b) recommended three models in particu-
lar that are effective for both victims and perpetrators: Solution Fo-
cused Brief Counseling (SFBC), Reality Therapy (RT), and Rational
Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). All three models can help
aggressors to take responsibility for their actions and correct their
behaviors while also empowering targets to successfully cope and
It should be noted that small group counseling has been spe-
cially recognized as an effective way to help students who experi-
ence bullying. For example, Young (1998) described a procedure
and process for how school counselors can conduct support groups
among the victim’s identiﬁed supporters, the perpetrator, and
those perceived to be supporters of the perpetrator. Reber (2012)
provides some evidence about the positive impact of an eight (8)
session group counseling experience on the self-esteem levels of
students who have been identiﬁed as the targets of bullying
aggressors. In another example, Hall (2006) proposed a ‘‘Solving
Problems Together’’ (SPT) group in which the school counselor
can help students develop the knowledge, attitude, and skills that
will enable them to deal more effectively with bullying. Relatedly,
Perkins and Williamson (2010) described how they incorporated
cyberbullying prevention groups in schools as part of aservice
learning project designed and implemented by counseling gradu-
ate students. These suggested efforts hold much promise if coun-
selors can take the lead and perform the required steps to
educate and enlist youth (and other educators on campus) towards
the common goal.
10. Conclusion and future directions
The current work is certainly not exhaustive in its attempt to
illuminate the facts and debunk the myths about cyberbullying,
as other misconceptions about the behaviors of teens online exist
and warrant empirical scrutiny. An even more systematic review
of popular media accounts of these problems would no doubt re-
veal additional unsubstantiated, questionable, or patently false
claims about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of
cyberbullying behaviors. It is essential to compare these assertions
to the body of scientiﬁc evidencethat is available to separate fact
from ﬁction. To be sure, there is still much that is not known about
cyberbullying, especially about the efﬁcacy of efforts to intervene.
For instance, as of this writing, there have been no formal process
or outcome evaluations of programs designed to prevent or re-
spond speciﬁcally to cyberbullying.
Anecdotally, there is much talk about ‘‘what works’’ and ‘‘what
doesn’t,’’ but data need to be collected about the short and long-
term outcomes associated with these initiatives. And, because
cyberbullying includes so many different people and organizations
(e.g., students, school personnel, parents, cell phone service provid-
ers, social networking companies, gaming companies, legislators,
and police), future research must be comprehensive in scope. Many
important questions still remain unanswered such as: (a) What
types of parental actions/responses are most effective in prevent-
ing and responding to cyberbullying? (b) Howeffective are peer
helpers as compared to adults when delivering cyberbullying
risk-reduction strategies? (c) How effective are self-led online
tutorials (e.g., videos or interactive games) in reducing the preva-
lence and incidence of cyberbullying? (d) What reporting proce-
dures and processes are best for preventing and responding to
cyberbullying? and, (e) What speciﬁc supervising and monitoring
techniques, both human and technological, work best?
According to Pearce, Cross, Monks, Waters, and Falconer (2011),
the special characteristics of cyberbullying pose new challenges to
future anti-bullying research. As mentioned earlier, these include
the anonymous nature of the problem, greater breadth of audience,
the lack of authority in cyberspace, and 24-h access to technology,
as well rapid technological changes continually providing new
means by which harm can be inﬂicted. These challenges, together
withthe rapidly changing landscape of technology, will continue to
make future research in this area as difﬁcult as it is necessary. In
the meantime, educators and other youth advocates should be
careful to use information, curricula, and other resources that are
informed by the most current and valid research available. Other-
wise, by default, they risk falling into the trap of relying on conven-
tional wisdom and media hyperbole in their well-intentioned
efforts to address cyberbullying.
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