Teen Cyberbullying: A Pew Research Center Study

According to a Pew Research study published in September 2018, 59% of teens have been bullied or harassed online. Chances are it has happened to your child or they have been the perpetrator or both.
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It is true that teens have been the perpetrator and recipients of bullying since there have been teenagers. What is different in our digital world today is the form that the bullying takes.

The location, timing, and format of the bullying have changed dramatically with the advent of the smartphone and the internet.

It used to be when one teen bullied another, they generally had to do it face-to-face where there was always the possibility of witnesses and the bullying was limited to physical proximity. Additionally, bullying generally took place during specific hours, namely between the time most teens left the house in the morning and the time they returned home for dinner. During the weekend or when the family was away on vacation were times of reprieve for the bullied teen when they would be out of reach of the abuser.

Smartphones allow interactions directly in a private context, as well as in public forums (i.e. social media). They also allow constant access at all times, day and night, as well as access that is never limited by physical distances. Also, with the advent of anonymous interactions, accountability has decreased. I recently went to the Google Play Store where Android users can download apps for their smartphones. I searched for “anonymous messaging” and was presented with over 250 possible apps. This makes it impossible for practical purposes to fully understand the landscape.

Anonymous messaging is a fertile ground in which teens cyberbully other teens. These apps all function on the premise that you can create an account and then publish a user link (and is then posted to their public social media bio) which can then be used by other users to send messages anonymously. There are a variety of these apps with varying degrees of parental control and supervision.

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Historically teens have said terribly hurtful things to their peers face-to-face. Anonymity only serves to free them from whatever self-restraint they may have previously possessed because of fear of reprisal, parents and other authority figures.

It seems obvious that teens who experience cyberbullying are at greater risk for behaviors such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. Studies have confirmed those suspicions. Perhaps less intuitive is the fact that teens who are perpetrators of cyberbullying were also more likely to experience suicidal behaviors or suicidal ideation than non-perpetrators.

Teens generally will try several avenues to deal with cyberbullying issues themselves. One of the least likely avenues of support they will seek is talking to parents. One paper said that 36% will ask the bully to stop, 34% will block communications, 34% will talk to friends about the bullying, 28% signed offline, but only 11% talked to a parent.  

As a parent, you need to be aware of the signs that might indicate a problem. Here are two lists of things to look for, one from NetNanny and the other from UKnowKids. The lists are similar and include looking for changes in eating habits, weight gain or loss, sleeping troubles, uneasiness about going to school, regular stomach aches or headaches, changes in mood immediately after use of technology, and unwillingness to share information about online activity, etc.

The Stats, Pew Study:

According to a Pew Research study published in September 2018, 59% of teens have been bullied or harassed online. Parents may consider that cyberbullying is a problem for other peoples’ kids. Chances are it has happened to your child or they have been the perpetrator or both.

The study published by Pew Research identified some of the trends and statistics around teen cyberbullying.

The 6 behaviors defined by the research group as cyberbullying are:

  • Offensive name-calling
  • Spreading false rumors
  • Receiving explicit images that were not requested
  • Constant asking about location, activities, etc. by someone other than a parent
  • Physical threats
  • Sharing of their explicit images without their consent

As I studied cyberbullying, I found varying statistical numbers. Some of that variance appears to be related to how different researchers classified what was considered cyberbullying behavior, which can be very subjective.

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Many of us may have preconceptions about the differences between boys and girls when it comes to cyberbullying. The Pew Research Study suggests that the number of boys and girls that experience harassment is similar, although girls are cyberbullied slightly more often. The type of harassment they experience varies as well. Girls tend to be the victims of online rumor-spreading and nonconsensual explicit messages. Overall, the study found that 60% of girls and 59% of boys had experienced at least one of the 6 listed abusive, cyberbullying behaviors online.

Teens felt like their parents were doing an adequate job of dealing with online harassment. They felt like other authority figures were doing a less effective job of controlling cyberbullying. Specifically, (in order of performance worst to best), Elected Officials (Fair/poor 79%, Excellent/good 20%), Social Media sites (Fair/poor 66%, Excellent/good 33%), Teachers (Fair/poor 58%, Excellent/good 42%), and Law Enforcement (Fair/poor 55%, Excellent/good 44%).

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The study also pointed out that a majority of parents are concerned about their kids being bullied online (about 60%) and that parents generally feel like they can teach their teens how to behave appropriately online (90%). Parents generally worry more about their teenage girls being bullied or exchanging explicit images than their boys. That bias is not really borne out by the study. Parents should be equally worried about both.


If you are the parent of a teen (13-17 years old), you should be aware of cyberbullying and you should be concerned about it. Odds are your child is involved as either the recipient or the perpetrator and both have negative emotional consequences. Even if you don’t see the warning signs, have a conversation with your teen and make sure they understand the boundaries, that you are there to support them, and make sure they know they can turn to you for help.

Anti-Cyberbullying Resources for Parents:


Connect Safely: A Parent’s Guide to cyberbullying

Internet Safety 101: Cyberbullying Resources

Other Reviews, Sources, and References:

11 Facts About Cyberbullying

A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying

About the Author:

Terry has been an entrepreneur in the IT industry for over 30 years. Go here to read his complete personal story, “Husband, father, Grandfather and IT Executive.” If you want to send Terry a quick message visit the contact page Here.

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Terry Preece

Terry Preece

Husband, Father, Grandfather, and IT Executive

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