Internet Violence and Cyberthreats

This article contains information on many ways in which teen internet violence and cyberthreats occur, and tips on what parents can do to help reduce teen violence online. Keep reading to find out more about teenage internet violence, cyberthreats, and cyberbullying.

While most people think of teen violence occurring at school or in the teens’ neighborhoods, some teen violence occurs or starts on the Internet. The Internet can both encourage and prevent teen violence, depending on who pays attention or speaks up.

The Internet contains vast amounts of information, both correct and false, and both positive and negative. Teens are spending more time on the Internet to have fun and interact with others and to work on homework, and they will need Internet skills to succeed in the workplace. Unfortunately, the Internet also offers a place where negative and violent emotions can be fostered, such as hate group web sites. Teens may also use the Internet to post their own violent thoughts and feelings.

When teens use the Internet to post messages about harming themselves or someone else, this is known as a cyberthreat. Cyberthreats can be an indicator to parents or other adults that a teen needs help, and they may also be against the law. In some cases, cyberthreats are followed by actual acts of violence.

Teen Internet violence and cyberthreats can occur in many ways. A teen may use the internet to:

  • Directly threaten to hurt someone
  • Indirectly threaten someone, like saying, "You'd better watch out at school tomorrow"
  • Manipulate someone by threatening to hurt their loved ones
  • Write about hurting him or herself, wanting to end it all, or feeling that life isn't worth living
  • Read or publish hateful information about a certain person or group of people
  • Talk about wanting to hurt or kill other people
  • View or post threatening pictures, songs, videos, or other forms of media
  • Play games that encourage violence. Studies have found connections between playing violent computer games and acting violently toward other people.
  • Visit web sites about violence or self harm
  • Engage in cyberbullying

Teens may send the cyberthreats to another person or post them on a web page for others to view.

In a recent study reported by CNN, about half of teens with a MySpace account had posts claiming that they engaged in risky behaviors, including acts of violence and self harm. Though teens sometimes lied about their actions to get attention, when they received positive feedback from other teens about their posts it encouraged some of them to act on their claims.

Hate groups web sites are often targeted toward teens, sometimes offering to help with homework or creating a welcoming atmosphere for teens who feel lonely, rejected, or misunderstood. In the US, hate group web sites are usually protected as free speech as long as they do not contain specific threats of violence, but they may encourage young people to act violently against others, and provide chat rooms and forums where people talk about hurting other people.

Other web sites encourage teens to harm themselves and offer ideas on ways to do so.

Cyberthreats and preventing teen violence

In many cases, teens’ cyberthreats are posted publicly, so others know that the teen is saying threatening things but either don't take it seriously or feel like it's not their business. It may be hard to know if a teen posting cyberthreats is serious or not. Teens should learn to report all threats to an adult, and should feel that they can safely tell an adult of their concerns without getting in trouble or having other teens know that they told. If teens report online threats to the right authorities they can help prevent teen violence, including homicides and suicides.

The US Secret Service published a report on their findings about school shootings in the United States, and in it they found that teens who were involved in school shootings usually told other teens beforehand what they were planning. In many recent attacks on schools and other public places the shooter had previously posted concerning information on the Internet, but in most cases no one had reported the information. Some potential shootings have been stopped because teens told an adult about the threats they saw online.

There are several things parents can do to help reduce teen violence online:

  • Encourage teens to report any threats they see online, even if they’re not sure the threats are serious or if the threats are directed at themselves or their family.
  • Teach teens that it’s not okay to post threatening messages online or through text messages, even if it’s a joke. Though teens may use a fake name, police can still identify them, and they may face legal consequences.
  • Discourage flaming, or sending angry messages back and forth with another person. Set a good example by not using threatening or angry language yourself.
  • Help teens learn to view web sites critically. Teach them that web sites often have a bias, and sites that use hateful language are probably distorting the truth about the people they are slandering.
  • Have an Internet use contract that states that teens may not use the Internet to view violent web sites or games or to cyberbully others or they will lose their Internet privileges. Keep the computer in a high-traffic area of the home and don’t allow teens to have computers in their bedrooms where you can’t monitor their Internet use.
  • Use filters to block violent or hateful web sites, but don’t rely on them exclusively since they’re not foolproof.
  • Provide teens with a loving and supportive environment at home so they don’t look for an Internet “family” that might encourage violence.
  • Report any online threats that you find out about to the school and the police, and get help for troubled teens who post disturbing content on the Internet.


Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, "Parent's Guide to Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats" [online]

United States Secret Service and US Department of Education, "Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates" [online]

Dr. Marleen Wong, UrbanEd Magazine, "Managing Threats: Safety Lessons Learned from School Shootings" [online]

Carol Potera, AJN American Journal of Nursing, "Sex and Violence in the Media Influence Teen Behavior" [online], "Study: Teens on MySpace mention sex, violence" [online]

Lynne Lamberg, Psychiatric News, "Hate-Group Web Sites Target Children, Teens" [online]

Related Article: Cyberbullying >>