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Cyberbullying has stronger impact on young victims than bullying in person

"Given these results, it may be prudent for primary care providers to screen for cyberbullying routinely."

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child with a phone in her hands. selective focus
The suicide rate in children has been steadily increasing. (Maples Images/Shutterstock)

By Jim Leffman via SWNS

Cyberbullying has a stronger impact on its young victims than 'traditional' bullying in person, a new study has revealed.

Victims of online bullying in early adolescence are more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts which go beyond that with offline bullying.

Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI), the University of Pennsylvania and Reichman University in Israel looked at the records for more than 10,000 children aged 10-13.

Dr. Ran Barzilay, an assistant professor at LiBI said: "Being a target of cyberbullying was associated with suicidality over and above experiences of perpetration of offline peer aggression.

"The association with suicidality remained for targets of cyberbullying even when
accounting for multiple confounders, including experiences or perpetration of
offline peer aggression.

"At a time when young adolescents are spending more time online than ever before, this study underscores the negative impact that bullying in the virtual space can have on its targets.

"Given these results, it may be prudent for primary care providers to screen for cyberbullying routinely in the same way that they might screen for other suicide risk factors like depression.

"Educators and parents should also be aware of the substantial stress bullying in the cyberworld places on young adolescents.”

teen girl in camouflage saddened
Suicide is the third leading cause of death of children between the ages of 15-24. 5,000 young people complete suicide in the U.S. each year. (Maples Images/Shutterstock)

The suicide rate in children has been steadily increasing, in 2018 it had become the second leading cause of death of people aged between 10 and 24.

One of the surprising results of the study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, was that online bullying was a different phenomenon to offline bullying.

The team defined online bullying as that of texts or group texts, or on social media like Instagram or Snapchat.

Offline bullying was split into three categories, overt aggression, such as threatening or hitting, relational aggression, such as not inviting or leaving someone out and reputational aggression, such as spreading rumors or gossiping.

Prior to this study, it was not clear whether being a target of cyberbullying is an independent risk factor for suicidality as traditional bullying is, due to the stress it causes.

The researchers analyzed data collected between July 2018 and January 2021 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study (ABCD Study), a diverse sample of over 10,414 US children between the ages of 10 and 13.

Of the children, 7.6% responded that they had experienced suicidal thoughts or acts, 8.9% reported being targets of cyberbullying, and 0.9% reported cyberbullying others.

The team found that being a target of cyberbullying was associated with suicidality, whereas being a perpetrator of cyberbullying was not.

That finding was distinct from traditional offline bullying, where being either a target or perpetrator of bullying is linked with suicidality.

Additionally, the researchers found that being bullied online only partly overlaps with being bullied offline, supporting the notion that cyberbullying is a distinct phenomenon, independent of offline experiences of bullying.

This may suggest that youngsters affected by cyberbullying are different from those affected by offline bullying.

Dr. Barzilay added: "We found that cyberbullying experiences only partly overlap with offline peer aggression experiences, with most targets of cyberbullying not reporting being targets or perpetrators of offline peer aggression.

"This finding supports the notion that cyberbullying is a distinct phenomenon, independent of offline peer aggression experiences and suggests that adolescents affected by cyberbullying are different from those affected by offline peer aggression and screening for cyberbullying experiences may detect youths at risk who are not detected when screening for offline peer aggression experiences.

“Our findings suggest being a target of cyberbullying is an independent risk factor for youth suicidality.

“For policymakers wishing to optimize youth suicide prevention efforts, this study should further encourage interventions for those who are being bullied online.”

With the rise of cyberbullying due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team caution that more research needs to be carried out to be completely clear as to the effects of the phenomenon.

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