Scars from Cyber-bullying Run Deeper

September 21, 2010

New research indicates that cyber-bullying, which occurs online or by cell phone, may be even more harmful to victims than physical beatings or name-calling.

New research indicates that cyber-bullying, which occurs online or by cell phone, may be even more harmful to victims than physical beatings or name-calling.

Unlike traditional bullying, which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, in cases of cyber-bullying, victims might not see or identify their harasser, according to findings published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. As a result, these victims “may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack.”

In the study, Jing Wang, Tonja Nansel and Ronald Iannotti of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development analyzed data from an international survey from 2005-06 that included a cohort of 4,500 preteens and teens. According to an online report, participants were asked about feelings of depression, irritability, grouchiness and ability to concentrate, and were specifically asked if they had been hit, called names, shunned, or sent negative messages electronically—or if they had done any of these things to other people.

The report was a follow-up to a 2009 study (also published in the Journal of Adolescent Health) in which the same research group examined four forms of school bullying behaviors among US adolescents and their association with sociodemographic characteristics, parental support, and friends. In the 2010 study, Wang and colleagues found that boys were more involved in physical or verbal bullying, whereas girls were more involved in relational bullying, and that boys were more likely to be cyber bullies, while girls were more likely to be victims. The prevalence rates for various types of bullying that occurred at school at least once during a two-month period were as follows: 20.8% physically, 53.6% verbally, 51.4% socially, or 13.6% electronically.

Through analysis of data obtained from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) 2005 Survey and the revised Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire, the researchers determined higher parental support was associated with less involvement across all forms and classifications of bullying, and that “having more friends was associated with more bullying and less victimization for physical, verbal, and relational forms but was not associated with cyber bullying.”

Cyber bullying, they concluded, “is a distinct nature from that of traditional bullying,” and therefore, warranted further study.

In their follow-up research, which focused on survey results on bullying behaviors and signs of depression in students in grades six through 10, Wang and colleagues found that physical and verbal bullies are often depressed themselves. But although there was little difference in depression between physical bullies and their targets, the researchers found that cyber bully victims reported significantly higher levels of depression than frequent bullies.

For more:

  • Congressional Testimony on Student Cyber Safety by Jorge C. Srabstein, MD
  • Journal of Adolescent HealthSchool Bullying Among Adolescents in the United States: Physical, Verbal, Relational, and Cyber (Read the 2010 authors reply)
  • Officials: Suicidal Teen Was Cyber-bullied