Cyberbullying or electronic aggression has been categorized as a public health threat. So much so that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has even issued warnings. Victims can suffer psychological and physical symptoms, and of course struggle to sustain what they would normally do in their lives.  In 2000, Tokunaga defined cyberbullying as ‘any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others.’  It is of course a curse which largely afflicts adolescents.  Young people are more inclined to spend much of their time using social media. They are more vulnerable to peer pressure and have less ability to socially and emotionally self-regulate. Nonetheless, cyberbullying and internet trolling also affects adults.

A Modern Phenomenon

Clearly this is a modern phenomenon accelerated by the ubiquity of cell phones. Also on our reliance on many forms of technology and the rise of social media. Technology today permits us to be connected to people that we know or don’t know twenty-four hours of the day.  For many young people, it is better to accept the negative aspects of social media than to feel disconnected.  A 2012 study showed that 81% of American adolescents use social media and that 22% used a social media website over 10 times each day.  Since cyberbullying can be anonymous and provides a platform for a large audience, it is possibly even more cruel than bullying in a pre-digital era.  This anonymity bolsters disinhibition and can amplify aggression.  The perpetrator doesn’t see the emotions caused by their harassment and regardless, may consider themselves protected from retribution.

Cyberbullying and Mental Health

Studies show that victims of cyberbullying are often the same people that are targeted by traditional bullying.  Yet, perhaps since there is no respite at home, cyberbullying appears more psychologically and emotionally dangerous than other forms.  Children who are bullied online have higher rates of depression. They also have lower self-esteem, problems with behavior and greater instances of substance abuse.  One study shows how cyberbullying causes increased rates of depression and anxiety amongst teens.  Of those who were victims of online aggression, 9.2% had attempted suicide, while 15.4.% of those who had received online as well as face-to-face bullying had attempted suicide.        

As is often the case with adverse childhood experiences, the reverberations continue into adulthood.  Those who had been cyberbullied were more likely to develop psychotic or borderline personality disorders as they grew into adults.  These individuals also frequently struggled to develop healthy relationships in adult life, as well as to find and maintain employment.  Moreover, a correlation has been discovered between those who are involved in cyberbullying and those who later develop internet addiction.  Internet addiction is defined as a continuous desire to use the internet, which disallows social relationships and significantly affects an individual’s emotional state, making it difficult to disconnect.  This in turn frequently leads to violent behavior and social isolation.    

Physical Symptoms of Cyberbullying

In addition to psychological troubles, physical symptoms of cyberbullying emerge over time. One survey notes that children who had been bullied reported more frequent stomachaches, colds, headaches and sleeping problems. 

Cyberbullying is distinct from other bullying in that it may involve the divulgence of personal information such as passwords, addresses or bank details.  It is also distinct in that the aggressors tend to be technologically very capable individuals who may be able to hide their trails.  In addition to harassment, account hacking, infecting another person’s computer with a virus, identity theft and sharing humiliating content are all forms of bullying.

Laws Against Cyberbullying

In most states across the USA and in many other countries, laws have been updated in the past ten years to criminalize electronic harassment.  Many organizations also exist to support and advise victims.  In order to be better armed against this silent form of abuse, it is useful for adults and parents to educate themselves about the potential forms of cyberbullying.  Young people are often more able to navigate their way around the internet than their parents.  Communication between parents and children is also vital.  Adolescents have stated that telling a responsible adult has helped them to prevent cyberbulling from escalating.  These young people need support in order to block messages or people who are targeting them.  Furthermore, a lower number of instances of cyberbullying was reported by teens who are ‘friends’ with their mother or father on social media and by those whose parents regularly oversee their online activities. 

Support for Those Being Cyberbullied

In schools and colleges, professionals have a duty of care to their pupils.  Therefore, regular up-to-date training for teachers and counselors about the mechanics of cyberbullying and recognizing it is essential.  Moreover, there is a strong argument for pediatricians bringing in screening questions about a child’s online activity when they carry out assessments.

A helpful framework when working with young people is to put in place guidelines around how best to use social media and where dangers can arise.  Awareness of these dangers and suggested techniques for avoiding them, given to children at an early age will help them to arm themselves against the potential claws of cyberbullying.  Many support organizations exist which provide lessons, resources and interactive computer games to inform young people, parents and professionals about how best to decrease cyberbullying.  Nonetheless, it is a burgeoning problem of our digital age.  Cooperation from social media companies as well as internet providers is required if we are to more successfully control electronic aggression.    

 

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. Aboujaoude E, Savage MW, Starcevic V, Salame WO. Cyberbullying: review of an old problem gone viral. J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jul;57(1):10–8;  https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)
  2. Tokunaga. Following you home from school: a critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Comput Hum Behav. 2010;26:277–87. https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  3. Hamm MP, Newton AS, Chisholm A, Shulhan J, Milne A, Sundar P, et al. Prevalence and effect of cyberbullying on children and young people: a scoping review of social media studies. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Aug;169(8):7707.https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  4. Aboujaoude E, Savage MW, Starcevic V, Salame WO. Cyberbullying: review of an old problem gone viral. J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jul;57(1):10–8;  https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 ((accessed 15/2/2020)

  5. ibid.
  6. Hamm MP, Newton AS, Chisholm A, Shulhan J, Milne A, Sundar P, et al. Prevalence and effect of cyberbullying on children and young people: a scoping review of social media studies. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Aug;169(8):770–7.https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  7. Tokunaga. Following you home from school: a critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Comput Hum Behav. 2010;26:277–87. https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  8. Hamm MP, Newton AS, Chisholm A, Shulhan J, Milne A, Sundar P, et al. Prevalence and effect of cyberbullying on children and young people: a scoping review of social media studies. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Aug;169(8):770–7.https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4; (accessed 15/2/2020)

  9. Mendez-Baldwin, M., Cirillo, K., Ferrigno, M., & Argento, V. (2015). CyberBullying Among Teens. Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression, 1(1). (accessed 15/2/2020)

  10. ibid.
  11. Wolke, D. & Lereya, S.T. (2015). Long-Term Effects of Bullying. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 100(9), 879–885 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  12. ibid.
  13. ibid.
  14. Casas JA, Del Rey R, Ortega-Ruiz R. Bullying and cyberbullying: convergent and divergent predictor variables. Comput Hum Behav. 2013;29:580–7. (accessed 15/2/2020)

  15. Aboujaoude E, Savage MW, Starcevic V, Salame WO. Cyberbullying: review of an old problem gone viral. J Adolesc Health. 2015 Jul;57(1):10–8;  https://ijponline.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13052-018-0446-4 (accessed 15/2/2020)

  16. Mendez-Baldwin, M., Cirillo, K., Ferrigno, M., & Argento, V. (2015). CyberBullying Among Teens. Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression, 1(1). (accessed 15/2/2020)