Children are 23% more likely to be bullied ONLINE than face-to-face

The digital playground: Children are now 23% more likely to be bullied ONLINE than face-to-face, Ofcom report reveals

  • Ofcom’s latest study shows that 39% of 8-17-year-olds have experienced bullying
  • Among these children, 84% said the bullying was online, while 61% was in person
  • Experts are calling for tech companies to improve their marketing of safety features for children

While bullying is often perceived as a playground activity, a new report has revealed that the majority now occurs online.

Ofcom’s latest study shows that 39 per cent of 8-17-year-olds have experienced bullying.

Among these children, the bullying was more likely to happen online (84 per cent) than face-to-face (61 per cent).

GP Dr Radha Modgil said: ‘Cyberbullying can be very pervasive. If it can be continuous, it can be literally that every single minute, every single day for a young person or a child.

‘The other aspect to cyberbullying is that increased level of anonymity. The greater potential for someone to be bullying someone without necessarily them knowing or showing who they are.’

While bullying is often perceived as a playground activity, a new report has revealed that the majority now occurs online (stock image)

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying and harassment using technology.

This includes trolling, mobbing, stalking, grooming or any form of abuse online. 

Cyberbullying is most certainly on the increase – more and more cases are being reported by children and by extremely worried parents. 

Source: National Bullying Helpline 

The Ofcom study found that the most common way for children to be bullied online was through text or messaging apps (56 per cent).

This was closely followed by social media (43 per cent), or via online games (30 per cent).

Thankfully, most children (93 per cent) say they would tell someone if they saw something upsetting or nasty online, according to Ofcom.

Girls are also significantly more likely than boys to always tell someone about something worrying they’ve seen online.

Two thirds of parents worry in general about their child being targeted by online bullies, the report adds.

Among parents of children who game online, over half (52 per cent) were concerned about being bullied during gameplay.

Speaking during an Ofcom podcast, Paige, 16, a teenage anti-bullying ambassador, discussed her experience with bullying online.

‘In my experience, it was purely just online bullying and it never carried out in person because ultimately I didn’t know the people personally who were bullying me,’ Paige said.

‘But I think no matter if the bullying is in person or online, it can have such a detrimental effect on young people or anyone mental health and the way they perceive others and themselves.

‘In my case, I suffered really badly with poor mental health during this time and you feel so isolated and alone.

‘And you can be in a room full of so many people, yet you still feel so alone. It’s a really unique experience that I feel so many people face in a different way.’

While bullying is often perceived as a playground activity, a new report has revealed that the majority now occurs online (stock image)

Based on the findings, experts are calling for tech companies to improve their marketing of safety features for children.

Alex Holmes, Deputy CEO of the Diana Award, added: ‘I think my biggest complaint with these tech companies is that that they’re good at innovating their products, bringing out new features but less good at innovating and marketing safety.

‘I’d love to see them be much clearer with users about some the types of behaviors they want to see and marketing those tools that they do have.’


Bullying can affect everyone; those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. 

Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. 

It is important to talk to children to determine whether bullying, or something else, is a concern.

Children who are bullied

Children who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. 

Children who are bullied are more likely to experience:

Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. 

These issues may persist into adulthood.

Health complaints 

Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardised test scores—and school participation. 

They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. 

In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

Children who bully others

Childrens who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. 

Children who bully are more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights, vandalise property, and drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults
  • Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults


Children who witness bullying are more likely to:

  • Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
  • Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Miss or skip school

The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide

Media reports often link bullying with suicide. However, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors.

Although children who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. 

Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. 

Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including black and minority ethnic, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.

This risk can be increased further when these children are not supported by parents, peers, and schools.  

Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.

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