Parents Divided Over Cyberbullying, Survey Suggests

Teenage girl sitting on bench looks at her phone with a worried expressionMost parents agree that cyberbullying is a problem, but opinions on which actions should be considered cyberbullying or the best way to respond vary, according to a University of Michigan survey.

The survey found that parents rank bullying as the second most important children’s health concern, with childhood obesity ranking first. Other high-ranking concerns included drug abuse, Internet safety, child abuse, sexting, smoking, school violence, teen pregnancy, and stress.

What Constitutes Cyberbullying?

Researchers from the University of Michigan polled a nationally representative sample of parents whose teens ranged in age from 13 to 17. The poll was part of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

A majority (63%) of parents agreed that social media campaigns to elect someone to homecoming court as a joke should be considered cyberbullying, but parents were divided on other issues. According to the poll, 45% of parents believe that altering a photo to make a student look larger is also cyberbullying, and 43% agree that posting rumors about a student caught cheating is a form of bullying. Sixty-five percent of parents say that posting online rumors about a student having sex at school counts as cyberbullying.

The researchers found between 30% and 50% of parents were unsure if the above actions should be considered cyberbullying or not. However, less than 5% of parents surveyed reported that these actions were “definitely not” cyberbullying.

Punishing Cyberbullies

Parents also expressed an array of opinions about how parents and other authority figures should handle cyberbullying. Parents thought that sexual rumors were the most severe form of cyberbullying, and 21% agreed that calling law enforcement is appropriate when sexual rumors surface. Other findings:

  • Eight percent of parents would call law enforcement on a child who doctored another student’s photo to make that student appear heavier; 27% say suspension is appropriate, and 35% recommend detention.
  • Thirty-nine percent of parents believe that sexual rumors warrant a suspension, and 27% recommend detention.
  • Students who try to get other children elected to homecoming court as a joke should, according to 37% of parents, be suspended. Thirty-eight percent think a detention is warranted, and 8% of parents recommend law enforcement action.
  • Posting rumors online that a student was caught cheating warrant a referral to law enforcement, according to 5% of parents. Twenty-six percent think a suspension is appropriate, and 46% advocate detention.


  1. Is it cyberbullying? Parents’ views differ on how schools should respond. (2015, September 23). Retrieved from
  2. Parents conflicted about how to label, punish cyberbullying. (2015, September 21). Retrieved from

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  • Marley


    September 24th, 2015 at 10:40 AM

    Would love to see how the numbers break down between how moms feel about it and how dads do, and which form of bullying each would find to be the worst

  • heath


    September 25th, 2015 at 8:28 AM

    If it is something that is being done or said to intentionally make another child feel bad then I for one think that that constitutes bullying. I think that for a very long time we have tried to push all of this kind of behavior to the side and say that this is just kids being kids, but there are children ending their lives because of this kind of stupid behavior form others. I do not want my child to be one of those victims.

  • JD


    September 25th, 2015 at 1:03 PM

    This isn’t an issue that should be about who says what or but this or because of this. It should be about my child is being hurt and I am going to do what I can to shut that behavior down from whoever is doing it.

  • Anil C

    Anil C

    September 25th, 2015 at 10:36 PM

    Knowledge is key – there is a solution out there, SafeKidsPro, which uses artificial intelligence to predict how a kids feels when receiving “bad content” and also the intent of the person sending it. All parents should check it out as it is the first thing that really tackles cyber bullying. Check it out –

  • Ben


    September 26th, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    Could socioeconomic differences or even if they had been bullied as a child play any role in how they perceive this?

  • Blake


    September 27th, 2015 at 7:41 AM

    It is the perception of what actually is bullying and what it isn’t. Some of those thoughts will have to change before we see any real progress being made in this fight.

  • Case


    September 28th, 2015 at 10:22 AM

    The reality of this is that it is all going to have a lot to do with how you think that people should interact with each other and also how your own views could be determined by experiences that you have had in the past. Obviously the helicopter parents are going to have a much different approach to this than the hands off kind of parents- and the parents who were bullied themselves could look at it in a different way too. And of course I do think that men and women could see certain things in a different way.

  • adrianna


    September 29th, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    Well no matter what, they should never be divided if they think that someone is picking on their kids. That is in no way what any responsible parent would ever do, and if that means that I am being an overbearing mom then so be it but I take this bullying stuff pretty seriously. I want my kids to have a fair fight if someone is bullying them and sometimes there are just other kids who don’t play fair anymore. If I have to get involved to put a stop to it then I most definitely will.

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