Skyrocketing use of smartphones and social media sites has made it easier than ever for kids to communicate, but not without potential risks.

Just as children can use text messaging and Facebook to reach out to friends, they can also use technology to embarrass, harass or intimidate their peers. Such behavior goes by several names — cyberbullying, Internet harassment, or, as federal health officials call it, electronic aggression.

Because cyberbullying is a fairly new phenomenon, researchers haven’t yet pinned down how many children and teens are affected by it. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 9 percent and 35 percent of young people say they have been bullied or harassed through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, blogs or text messaging. The percentage of young people who admit to being cyberbullies themselves varies from 4 percent to 21 percent.

Young victims of cyberbullying are much more likely to use alcohol and drugs, receive school detention and suspension, and skip classes.

Young perpetrators of cyberbullying are more likely than their peers to bully other children face to face.

The biggest red flag that a child is a victim of cyberbullying is withdrawing from technology, according to the National Crime Prevention Council. Parents should be on the alert if a child suddenly stops using a computer or phone.

Other warning signs that a child is being cyberbullied include:

  1. Becoming withdrawn or shy.
  2. Showing signs of depression.
  3. Appearing extremely moody, agitated, anxious or stressed.
  4. Changes in sleeping or eating habits.
  5. No longer participating in activities the child once enjoyed.
  6. Suddenly changing friends.
  7. Not wanting to attend school, skipping classes or getting in trouble at school.
  8. Drops in grades.

Signs that your child may be cyberbullying others include:

  1. Stops using the computer or turns off the screen when someone approaches.
  2. Appears nervous, jumpy or secretive when using the computer or a cellphone.
  3. Spending excessive amounts of time on the computer.
  4. Becoming upset or angry when computer or cellphone privileges are limited or taken away.

The CDC suggests that parents find ways to respond to cyberbullying without punishing the victim, such as by revoking a child’s cellphone privileges. Also, visit the websites your child frequents and familiarize yourself with new devices they’re using.

Health experts recommend developing rules with your child about safe ways to use technology and electronic media. Talk to other parents and your child’s school to develop a collaborative approach toward preventing cyberbullying in the first place, the CDC advises.

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...