Happy middle school kids on a busAnd they’re off! A new batch of students starts middle school this month, which means they’re changing classes, rearranging friend groups and will soon be old enough to start their own social media accounts. Yikes.


Caught in the preteen land between childhood and the teen years, middle schoolers are the perfect age to engage in anti-cyberbullying programs. Even though middle school lasts only three years, 33% of public middle school students report cyberbullying daily or once a week, per the 2019-20 School Survey on Crime and Safety.


Middle schoolers increase their online and mobile technology use when they get smartphones, interact with online gamers or use social media, which means they may begin using devices without knowing what to do or not do online. Anti-cyberbullying education may prevent middle schoolers from harassing another student online, spreading rumors about another student through social media networks, leaving out other students online, or sharing inappropriate pictures or personal information with others.


Bullying — including cyberbullying — is violence that may result in physical injury, social and emotional distress, self-harm and even death. Being bullied may increase a student’s risk for depression, anxiety, sleep difficulties, lower academic achievement and dropping out of school. And it doesn’t end with those being bullied: Youth who bully others are more likely to misuse substances, have academic problems and experience violence later in life. Witnessing and experiencing bullying can threaten students’ physical and emotional safety at school.


However, schools can help improve these outcomes and keep kids safe by implementing proven school-based anti-bullying programs and policies, which can reduce children’s bullying experiences and improve their mental health. Both parents and schools can teach digital citizenship skills.


First, both parents and school staff can understand where children are cyberbullied so this violence form can be recognized and stopped. StopBullying.gov shares these common places where cyberbullying occurs:


• Social media or video-sharing apps, such as YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat and Tik Tok

• Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices

• Instant messaging, direct messaging and online chatting over the internet

• Online forums and message boards, such as Reddit

• Email

• Online games and gaming communities


Next, be aware of what it looks like when children are bullying others, are being bullied or have witnessed bullying. Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:


• Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting

• A child exhibits emotional responses — laughter, anger, upset — to what is happening on their device

• A child hides their screen or device when others are near and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device

• Social media accounts are shut down, or new ones appear

• A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past

• A child becomes withdrawn or depressed or loses interest in people and activities


Help students understand how to use digital devices, technology and websites responsibly to ensure your middle school properly addresses and helps prevent cyberbullying. In school-sponsored digital education, teach youth how to prevent cyberbullying with these strategies:


• Never accept friend or network requests from unfamiliar people.

• Use the “mom” principle: Do not post or share photographs or movies you would not be willing to share with your mother, father or other important caregiver.

• Follow the “forever” principle: Assume everything you put online will be there forever. 

• Follow the “no privacy” principle: Assume everyone can access information about you in cyberspace.

• Follow the “ex” principle: Would you be OK with your ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends having access to content you plan to share?

• Block threatening or questionable people from seeing your profile and personal information.

• Do not post provocative, scandalous or inflammatory remarks online.

• Do not reply to or retaliate against cyberbullying incidents.

• Regularly change passwords to sites and applications, and immediately delete hacked profiles.

• Avoid sites, networks and applications with poor security, that provide easy access to personal information or encourage interactions among strangers.

• Ensure information is approved before it is posted or shared socially.

• Limit involvement in social networking to a few familiar sites.

• Avoid joining sites that do not have adequate privacy settings.

• Never engage in sexting, aka sharing pictures or messages with private sexual content.


Cyberbullying is not limited to school grounds, so parents should learn how to recognize cyberbullying at home. Schools can connect parents to resources that help them establish rules, report cyberbullying to the school or authorities, and increase their digital awareness. When parents and schools work together, children can experience less cyberbullying — and live happier, healthier lives during middle school.


For more information, check out these resources:


• “How to Prevent Cyberbullying, A Guide for Parents, Caregivers and Youth,”

• the Community Guide: School-based anti-bullying interventions,

• Stopbullying.gov: Tips for teachers, and "Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Intervention.”


Jaime Grimes is a technical writer-editor in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.


Photo by Kali9, courtesy iStockphoto