Social Media & Cyberbullying 101

Center for Family Engagement Logo

Subscribe for Updates


Notes from the Backpack banner

Episode 47│Social Media & Cyberbullying 101

Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021

Subscribe on your favorite podcast platform:

Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts Stitcher Spotify Tune In

Listen now:

Show Notes

Sameer Hinduja

From the cyberbullying risks to dangerous social media challenges, many parents feel terrified when their child enters the world of social media. How can families have proactive discussions about navigating the online world responsibly? Dr. Sameer Hinduja, director of the Cyberbullying Research Center joins the show to share practical tips and respond to some of your most commonly asked questions!


Thanks to Norton, a longtime Proud National PTA Sponsor, for supporting this episode.


Keep the Conversation Going

Like this episode? Share your thoughts with us via social media @National PTA and by using #BackpackNotes. Be sure to visit for more resources from today’s episode.


LaWanda Toney: Welcome to today's episode, I'm LaWanda Toney,

Helen Westmoreland: And I'm Helen Westmoreland, and we are your co-hosts. Today, we're talking about social media. So my daughter is only three, she isn't on social media just yet. And I'm curious to see what platforms will even be around when she's old enough to be. But we know from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and TikTok the landscape is always changing, but the skills that kids need to navigate social media are the same.

LaWanda Toney: We know that social media can be a scary topic for a lot of parents and some want to shield their children from the online world for as long as possible, but like it or not, social media is an important way kids stay connected in an increasingly virtual world and we want parents to know how they can best support their children.

Helen Westmoreland: Which is why LaWanda we are so excited to have an expert today who has a lot to tell us on this topic. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Sameer Hinduja to the show.

Helen Westmoreland: Dr. Sameer Hinduja is a professor in the school of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University, co-director of the cyber bullying research center and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein center for internet and society at Harvard University. He is the co-founder and co-editor in chief of the international journal of bullying prevention, and he trained students, educators, and parents on how to promote the positive use of technology. Thank you again and welcome Dr. Hinduja.

Sameer Hinduja: Yeah, I'm happy to be here. And I really hope that we can be a great resource to those who are listening.

Helen Westmoreland: So, LaWanda and I like to start off the episode by just hearing a little bit more about you and how you got into your field of work.

Sameer Hinduja: So I grew up in Orlando and I was really interested in watching a lot of crime dramas, whether it's, CSI or Law and Order. I thought initially that I might become a law enforcement officer, but then as I continued in my studies or undergrad, I just realized that I loved learning. And at the same time, my dad had a computer business, so I was involved in software and networking and hardware, much earlier than a lot of my peers. And so, I was able to intersect the two, you know, computers and technology and networking with crime and criminal justice.

And so when I went up to Michigan state, I was able to study that specifically and take courses in criminal justice, and in computer science. But what happened while I was up there was that, I saw an editorial in, believe it or not, People Magazine, talking about a young boy who unfortunately had taken his life due to online bullying and my colleague, Dr. Justin Patchin and I, we thought to ourselves because we shared the same office as graduate students that we should study this, and not just get a feel for prevalence and frequency and scope, but most importantly, what educators can do, what parents can do, community and society.

Helen Westmoreland: Awesome.

LaWanda Toney: Dr. Hinduja, what do families most need to know about keeping their kids safe online?

Sameer Hinduja: The reality is, is that families feel quite freaked out often by the technology, by these new apps that are coming down the pike. And I think that's understandable, because maybe many of them haven't grown up with the technology, or if they have to some degree, right now in their life, they don't have the margin to really continue to keep tabs on all that youth are doing, all that youth culture is about. And so for that reason, again, it's easy to get overwhelmed and stressed out, by the new developments. But with that said, I think a big takeaway is for them to just remember that if they come across as calm and reasonable and rational, their children will be more likely to talk to them about any sort of issues that they experience, and have those conversations, which we all know are so crucial for youth development.

Helen Westmoreland: Absolutely. I am curious what you think Dr. Hinduja, LaWanda mentioned at the top of the episode, we have to just figure out how to navigate this world of technology and social media. Could you give our listeners a big picture of like, we're so used to focusing on the risks, but talking a little bit about the benefits too, and why that's important?

Sameer Hinduja: When I was growing up, I struggled with feeling alone, feeling like nobody was like me, that I didn't belong anywhere, and I would've loved for there to been communities to which I could gravitate towards online and just sort of find my place, find my squad, my crew, but that wasn't available to me.

And I think it to some degree compounded, you know, feelings of loneliness and isolation and maybe even self-hatred. But now, I think a lot of adults neglect to see or realize that youth are able to go out there and connect with others of like-minds, those who share similar interests and hobbies and desires and hopes and dreams, and that makes them feel less alone.

That makes them feel that, they have others who are just like them, others who are in their corner, and they can all think collectively, work together towards this amazing adulthood that they want.

Helen Westmoreland: Yeah. So is the risk that I think most parents fear, which is too much screen time, and getting lost in the fantasy world of online, a real risk from the research you've done.

Sameer Hinduja: I think that there's always concerned about anything, too much of anything really. I feel that, we always need to be thinking about moderation and moderation is something that we hear all the time, but it's relevant, honestly, in so many areas of life. And you probably also, Helen, have heard the distinction between creation and consumption when it comes to screen time, when it comes to what our youth are doing online, we don't want them to simply be consuming these videos on YouTube and in content on TikTok. We want them to ideally, be developing various sorts of skills that could help them be creators. And as they learn to engage with the internet and social media, they will develop skills as it relates to self-presentation, critical thinking, maybe they'll even get better at web design or photo editing or video editing.

And I think that all of these skills are truly valuable as we move deeper and deeper into an information based society and economy, where more and more young people will, to be honest, be earning their living, maybe part-time or full-time, by what they're doing online.

LaWanda Toney: Yeah, that's really great and interesting. I know a lot of parents think about social media and they just think about some of the big, or largest platforms, but there're also so many different communities and things that are popping up every day, that they may not be considering as social media. Because for example, my son, he's not on traditional social media, but he has a Discord account with his cousins and they use Discord to stay in contact with each other when the pandemic began, because they couldn't see each other. So they were able to connect and play games together or just talk on Discord or other type of social media platforms. So that was something that I thought of as a benefit, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to stay in contact with each other.

Sameer Hinduja: Absolutely, as adults sometimes I think that we forget how important our peers were as it related to, how we felt you know, how positive we were about life instead of being negative and pessimistic. I mean, it dictated so much of not just our self-worth, but also our outlook and we needed to be connected with them. And I'm sure you'll remember, you would gladly give up sleep to be on the phone with your best friend, to talk about your latest crush until midnight, one or two in the morning, even though you had to get up at six for high school the next day, but you didn't care, you just wanted to stay connected with your friends.

And so with the pandemic, we've seen youth need that so very desperately and communities that they build on Discord or Twitch, or, some of these other platforms allows them to like you said, chat together asynchronously. So they could just drop in whenever they're bored and then leave whenever they need to go do something else, then they can stream games together, and it just allows for the hangout time, which they absolutely desire and need.

LaWanda Toney: Yeah, I agree.

Helen Westmoreland: Yeah. So true. So, Dr. Hinduja I wanted to follow up, you mentioned that, social media is not just about what happens at home, but there's an important role for schools and teachers and educators in this conversation. Could you talk a little bit more about that? And, some of the best practices our listeners should be looking for when it comes to what their schools are doing to promote healthy social media use.

Sameer Hinduja: So, we've seen a lot of schools move in the direction of teaching digital citizenship and media literacy, and some unfortunately may not have the resources and the space in the margin to treat it in a very comprehensive way. And so, maybe they have a lesson plan here or a module there, but what I would love to see, and perhaps parents can encourage this, maybe through their PTA connections. We need, a very deep understanding to be passed on by educators, to students related to a number of concepts. And it isn't just about not being mean online, but it's related to copyright infringement. It's related to plagiarism. It's related to misinformation, counter speech, and so I would love for every youth, in 2021, 2022, to be able to  get this, they absolutely need to in, in order for them to become productive members of our society.

Helen Westmoreland: That's great, thank you.

LaWanda Toney: So Dr. Hinduja, I think parents are struggling between online and offline communication and behaviors for their kids and their teens. Is there really a difference in how a student should behave or kids should behave online versus offline? And what kind of things should we be instilling in our kids to make sure that they understand their responsibility online and offline?

Sameer Hinduja: So as our kids grow up, we want them to be able to talk well with anyone, whether it's a little kid or whether it's a senior citizen, you know, grandpa, grandma, principal at their school, police officer. We want them to be able to articulately and eloquently convey their point and get across what they need to get across.

And instead when it's online, it just tends to be these terse sort of points being made. Maybe sarcastic sentiments being expressed, people using memes to get their point across. And so, unfortunately it feels that, much of the common decency of human interaction has been removed from the equation.

And so what I think is necessary is for us to continue to practice just basic, communication and dialogue with our youth and be intentional about putting our youth in various sorts of situations or circumstances or community events so that they can practice. I want them to do community service where they're interacting with other adults in the community who have pro-social ties to these positive institutions, and that will teach them a way of speaking a way of interacting and a way of caring about other people.

I think it will help them grow in empathy and empathy is something that I care so deeply about. And so can we put our kids in, in those environments that soften their hearts, maybe even break their hearts, at least a little bit, whether they are engaged in community service projects to help the homeless or whether they learn more about human trafficking and care about that population.

My own family cares a lot about the clean water crisis and my kids know about the fact that we build these wells in India because it's unacceptable, in this day and age for anyone, you know, a kid like them to not have clean water. And so bottom line, I just want our youth to be in various environments, sports clubs, activities, community service, where they can grow in these, social and emotional skillsets, including empathy that will help them both online and offline.

LaWanda Toney: I really appreciate that. Thank you so much.


LaWanda Toney: So Dr. Hinduja, can we throw out a couple scenarios? Some of our listeners have sent in some questions and they need some advice. We turned them into scenarios and then you can react to them. Does that work for you?

Sameer Hinduja: Yes. I'd love to hear these scenarios and we'll do all that we can to answer them.

LaWanda Toney: Let's give it a try. My child just turned 13 and he's begging me for social media access, he's technically at the age that he's allowed to register, but I'd like him to wait a few more years because I'm nervous the impact that social media will have on his mental health. What should I do?

Sameer Hinduja: Well, the first thing that I would say is that, there's this artificial you know, stage of 13 years of age where, yeah, it seems like you are appropriately able to get online. But the reality is, is that all of our kids differ, developmentally. Some are more mature at 13 and some are less mature. And so I would ask the, the mom, the dad, the caretaker to try to size up how responsible their child has been in recent months and years. And whether they believe, they're not just, you know, deserving of a phone, but they will be able to use it responsibly and not make decisions that they'll then regret.

And another thing that I would say is that, and I know parents are not going to want to hear this, but many of your child, if your child is 13, peers, they already have phones. So, it seems that sometimes a child who's 13 might come to you and say, if you don't give me a phone, then I'm going to be missing out and I'm already missing out, and I feel so alone because I don't know what's going on with my peer group. So, it does seem to affect them emotionally and maybe even their mental health when they're not having a device when all their other friends and peers are having a device. So I think honestly that should lean you in the direction of maybe giving them a device and then allowing them to have, for example, one app.

So pick an app, and then you're able to get their password and it's not like you're going to be logging in on behalf of them every day, you don't have time for that. But they just need to feel informally deterred that you could login if you ever wanted to. And you will check the accounts every so often. And hopefully they're making wise decisions.

Hopefully they are portraying themselves in a favorable light, and hopefully they're not going off on anyone when it comes to an emotional reaction or being malicious. And if they prove that they're worthy of your trust, then maybe six months or a year down the road, you give them another app and you slowly but surely let out the proverbial leash, I would say. And again, as long as they don't violate your trust, then I think that's how we like to move. The bottom line is that our kids are looking for more and more freedoms. But we just want them to show us that they're worthy of those freedoms.

Helen Westmoreland: Yeah, that's a good way to think about it. Okay, so the next scenario is a little bit of switching gears. My 14-year-old is being cyberbullied by some kids in her class, my daughter doesn't want me to talk to any of the other parents and the school is refusing to get involved since technically it's not happening on school grounds. What should I do?

Sameer Hinduja: So, this is such a controversial issue, even though it shouldn't be, because there have been cases that the Supreme court level, the appellate court level and the lower court level which says, that if a child is being cyberbullied and you can identify some sort of nexus or link to the school, then the school, if it's a public school, is responsible to do something about it.

And in this scenario, we do have that nexus, we do have that link because the girl is being cyberbullied by a peer at school, and so it stands to reason that the target would then feel unsafe at school would not be able to concentrate fully on schoolwork and the teacher maybe always looking over their shoulder and wondering if it's going to lead to physical violence in the hallways or in the lunch room. So clearly, her quality of education is being compromised, and so schools are responsible to prevent any material or substantial disruptions that can occur on campus. And they're also supposed to safeguard the ability of youth to feel safe and supported in that learning environment. Because otherwise, again, it's compromised and they're missing out on something that is lawfully promised to them, which again is an education where they feel safe.

So, the school should be doing more, but when it comes to the parent in this scenario, the school wasn't doing anything. If I was the parent, I would continue to document, document, document, not just digital evidence in the form of screen recordings and screenshots, but also just writing out whether you need to talk to a best friend who is a witness or, getting various sorts of statements from your daughter related to how they're being targeted, where it's occurring and how it's affecting their mental health.

And then unfortunately you do need to move it up the chain of command, whether it's to the district level, whether you need to get an attorney involved. Because again, the courts are very clear that the schools do have a responsibility when there's a link. And in this case, there is a link, because the target and the aggressor are both at the same school.

Helen Westmoreland: Yeah. That's great advice.

LaWanda Toney: Yes, here is the last one, last scenario that we have. I have a 15-year-old who's really active on social media and I keep hearing about various dangerous social media challenges. What do I need to know about these challenges and what steps should I take to keep my child from engaging in this reckless behavior?

Sameer Hinduja: So over the last handful of years, there have been some, you know, controversial challenges that have surfaced and almost erupted on social media. I would say the most recent one just involves youth who, unfortunately destroy school owned property on campus and take a video of it, whether they ripped down the projector from the ceiling and put it in their back pocket, backpack and take home, or whether they're ripping soap dispensers off the wall in the bathroom, it's incredibly juvenile things, but it just allows them to produce a little bit of online content, which I guess gets likes and lots of comments, from others, unfortunately.  

So the thing here is that I wouldn't say this is a technological issue or even a social media issue. We want our youth to be decent human beings who respect others and who respect the property of others. And so obviously this, this behavior cannot be tolerated and, hopefully as a parent, we are teaching our kids over the years that, we need to be respectful, we need to be responsible, we need to treat other people's things as if they were our own, because we wouldn't want somebody else to destroy it. We need to understand that everything costs money. Some things cost way more money than we could possibly imagine.

So just focusing on those sorts of lessons, I think are most important because then you are building and raising a son or a daughter who is doing, ideally the right thing, whether it's online, but also whether it's offline, it doesn't matter. They're just, again, moving towards becoming an upstanding, a decent human being.

Helen Westmoreland: That's great advice. Dr. Hinduja, I want to go back a little bit to you touched on cyberbullying and I think for many parents it's sort of a fine line. And one of the other disagreements we frequently hear happens is what teasing, right, or like, ribbing versus like some real bullying behavior. Could you give our listeners a little bit of just look fors from your perspective, particularly since you have such an extensive history studying bullying with, what are some of the markers that parents should look for to know this is serious enough of an online bullying issue to raise the alarm?

Sameer Hinduja: Interpersonal harm occurs along a continuum, you know, basically we have on one side, you know, various sorts of disagreements that then could move into harassment and then can move into bullying. And then perhaps we have threats and something maybe even more severe, severe, such as physical violence. And so on that continuum, we need to be careful that we don't label everything as bullying. We have this academic definition of cyberbullying, which just involves the willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of technology. But if we're looking at again, school-based bullying, you still have those elements of intentionality and repetition.

And I mentioned harm. Harm is important, because it's not my perspective of whether this person is harmed or your perspective, whether this person's harm, we need to listen to the target. We need to take the victim's words as they are. And if they're being harassed and they say that it's affecting them emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, then absolutely we need to respond. And so I think we get into trouble when we label, the name calling and the teasing as bullying as well, because obviously the school is going to treat it a little bit differently. And plus when we label everything bullying, then we assume that the school must get involved and we never really give the kids themselves a chance to develop the social and emotional skills necessary to deal with conflict.

They don't grow in resilience. They don't develop any sort of ability to deflect or to laugh something off, and then as a consequence, we all wonder when they get to college, when they get into adulthood, are they going to be able to deal with conflict when it comes from a coworker, when it comes from a boss, when it comes from the in-laws? And all of that is inevitable.

And so I think what's most important is that in the safe and supportive environment of our homes, as they're working their way through, K through 12. We want to be able to give them practice, you know, opportunities to try out various techniques, to deal with the teasing, the name calling, whether they don't let it bother them, whether they're able to laugh it off, those sorts of things, help them to practice, help them to figure out what it's going to take to move past it. So they don't fall apart when it happens in the future.

LaWanda Toney: That's great. That's great advice. I do have one question before we start to wrap. We've discussed a lot of things as it relates to social media use and cyber bullying. What is one thing you'd like families to walk away from today's episode?

Sameer Hinduja: I want them to be a person that other people would want to talk to. For example, their kids, they need to be the type of person that, their kids are comfortable going to, because that's the biggest issue. Our kids need help, but they're very hesitant to come to us because they're afraid of us flying off the handle. Taking away their phone, deleting that app from their phone and, they need that sort of stuff like oxygen. It doesn't make sense to us, but that is the truth. So, if we're able to convey to them that look, I will be calm. I will be reasonable. Just let me know what's going on and let's work together, to come up with some sort of mutually agreeable solution.

As it relates to okay, maybe going to the school or, you know, do we need to get an attorney involved or how can we work with the social media app or platform in order to get this embarrassing, humiliating, threatening content taken down? You tell me what you would like to see happen, and I will give you my inputs and again, we'll work together on this. I think that's so crucial because ultimately as our kids get older, we always want them to know that we're in their corner, we're their biggest fan, we're their loudest cheerleader, just give us a chance to come through for you.

LaWanda Toney: I love that. Dr. Hinduja, how can people follow your work and find out more about the things that you're doing?

Sameer Hinduja: Well, we have the cyber bullying research center, which is at And we don't just discuss about cyber bullying, but all these issues that we've touched on today, you know, whether it's screen time, we talk about sexting, digital dating abuse, sextortion, digital self-harm. We also talk about all of these components that we need to enhance, whether it's school climate, whether it's empathy, whether it's resilience, moral development. All of these ways that we combat problematic behaviors are discussed, and all of what we share is backed by research. And I'll also say that people can learn more about me at

That's my last name I'm real faithful in getting back to anyone, if you have questions, need advice, the sounding board, I know all of us are in this together and it just stinks to feel like we don't know where to turn for help, but you know, your audience can count on me and I know that they can count on you as well.

LaWanda Toney: Awesome. I think you will definitely get some of our listeners reaching out to you for some additional advice. I really appreciate that you're able to respond and help people cause their need when our families need some extra help with this.

So thank you, Dr. Hinduja for all your help today, answering our scenarios, just being a great guest we really appreciate your time today.

Sameer Hinduja: It's been my pleasure anytime.

LaWanda Toney: Great. And to our listeners. Thank you for joining us. Please remember to visit our apple podcast page and leave a rating and a review, and as always for more resources related to today's episode, check out Thanks for listening and join us next.