It’s Hard to Hate Up Close:
Preventing cyberbullying begins off line.

Rebecca Wenrich Wheeler, Senior Health Educator

In the 2009 film Avatar, the ultimate indication of friendship and intimacy are the words “I see you,” three words spoken face to face, not through a screen or lens. Imagine if a child hears identifiers such as gay, Muslim, Jewish, African-American, Caucasian, and Hispanic, and a fuzzy media prototype doesn’t come to mind, but rather the face of a friend.  It’s hard to hate up close.  As adults, we must help youth cultivate empathy and mutual respect for others, qualities that extend to online relationships as well.

Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.

In a time of growing concerns over cyberbullying, adults play an important role in modeling relational behavior both face to face and on line. Children learn how to manage conflicts and support others during difficult times by watching how adults interact with one another.  These relationship skills, or lack thereof, are also reflected in online behaviors.  Unfortunately, bullying behaviors are not isolated to youth. Ni (2017) outlined the five most common types of adult bullying:

  • Physical bullying: real and simulated physical harm (i.e. violent gesturing)
  • Tangible/material bullying: using one’s title, position, or material status to dominate another person.
  • Verbal bullying: any hostile language, threat, or shaming
  • Passive aggressive or covert bullying: a person acting suitably on the surface, but sabotages the person’s reputation behind the scenes.
  • Cyberbullying: displaying any of the behaviors listed above on any online or digital platform.

Do these five common types of bullying sound familiar? It should be of little surprise that the bullying behaviors most discussed in terms of youth are also the most prominent bullying behaviors in adults.  Scheff (“It’s Revealed” 2014) writes, “Although we can’t diminish the need to continue to discuss youth bullying and cyberbullying, we also need to recognize the need to open up a dialogue about adults who are bullies and those who are targets of their online cruelty.” In 2014, the Pew Research Center released its first study on adult cyber harassment. Of those surveyed, 73% of adults had witnessed online harassment and 40% had experienced cyberbullying first-hand, with the majority of these experiences happening on social media platforms.  Men reported more name-calling and embarrassment, while young women recounted high rates of sexual harassment and stalking (Pew 2014). Compared to adult cyberbullying levels, the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) reported 15.5% of high school youth experienced cyberbullying, with females facing online harassment at twice the rate as males.

Most parents acknowledge the need to monitor their children’s online activity.  At the same time, parents should realize that children are also monitoring and modeling their parents’ online behavior. If a child witnesses his or her parent overshare personal information or publicly ridicule another person with a dissenting viewpoint, the child will assume those are appropriate online behaviors.  Adults will coach youth to protect their online identity and avoid escalating cyberbullying situations, but are they heeding their own advice?  A 2014 Career Builder survey revealed that 51% of employers, who research applicants’ social media profiles, said they have decided not to hire a candidate based on inappropriate social media posts.  While these trends sound bleak, thankfully we can change the trend by modeling responsible online behaviors. Scheff (“Creating” 2014) discusses tips for modeling caring behavior on line:

  • Avoid checking your phone while you are with a friend, especially during a meal or in conversation.
  • Avoid oversharing on social media, whether it has been a bad day at work or a bad date.
  • Think before you post, often less is more.
  • Talk to your children about reporting online harassment, and share that adults experience it, too.
  • Learn the procedures to report abuse for each social media platform you and your children use.
  • Explain that anonymity isn’t a free pass for cruelty.
  • If you see someone hurting, reach out to them on line with kindness.

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness month. Download a social media campaign kit created by Youth Thrive’s Emotional-Wellbeing Action Team, of which the Poe Center is a member.

Graph: Roughly four-in-ten Americans have personally experienced online harassment.


Graph: Nearly all parents take to their teen about acceptable online behavior, but discussions about "real life" conduct are more frequent.



Ni, P. (2017, January 22). The 5 Most Common Types of Adult Bullying. Retrieved October 07, 2017.

Number of Employers Passing on Applicants Due to Social Media Posts Continues to Rise, According to New CareerBuilder Survey. (2014, June 26). Retrieved October 07, 2017.

Pew Research Center. (2014, October 23). Online Harassment. Retrieved October 07, 2017.

Scheff, S. (2014, October 30). It’s Revealed: Cyberbullying and Online Cruelty Is Not Only Child’s Play. Retrieved October 07, 2017.

Scheff, S. (2014, July 07). Creating a Caring Teen Online Starts Offline with a Caring Parent. Retrieved October 07, 2017.

Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance: 2015 high school results. Adolescent and School Health. (2017, August 09). Retrieved October 08, 2017.


Interested in bringing this topic to your school or organization?

  • The Poe Center’s Bullying Prevention curriculum offers programs for pre-school – 8th grades.
  • The Poe Center’s #YouthCulture workshop series for adults addresses adolescent development, social media, and healthy relationships.Adolescent Brain Development and the Role of Social Media
    Learn about current research on adolescent brain development and teen risk perception. Participants will also explore how a risk perception impacts a teen’s engagement with social media and Internet security.

Schedule a program with us today!