Bullying in our society has received considerable press and attention in the last few years, with connections to a variety of mental health issues and even suicides. Cyberbullying is of particular concern as social media is a presence in the lives of the majority of our young people. Reports indicate that 95% of American teenagers use the Internet and that 81% of them use social media. But these online interactions, while educational and entertaining, also come with potential risks and safety concerns which include cyberbullying.
Michelle P. Hamm, Ph.D. (University of Alberta, Canada), and co-authors reviewed 36 studies to examine the health-related effects of cyberbullying through social media among children and adolescents. Their article on this review, Prevalence and Effects of Cyberbullying on Children and Young People, was published in JAMA Pediatrics August 2015 issue. Most of the studies were conducted in the United States and included middle and high school students between the ages of 12 and 18, most of which were female. Facebook was the most commonly used platform with 89% to 97.5% of social media users indicating they had an account.
The authors found that the median percentage of children and adolescents who reported cyberbullying in the studies was 23%. The most common reason for online bullying was relationship issues, with girls most often being the recipient of the bullying. Name-calling, spreading gossip and rumors, and circulating pictures were common forms of bullying.
There were consistent associations between exposure to cyberbullying and the increased likelihood of depression. Ten of the studies examined the link between social media victimization and depression and all of them found a connection with the more cyberbullying a teen experienced, the more severe his or her symptoms of depression. This connection between bullying and depression is consistently emerging in the literature as the most common effect and one with lasting impact even into adulthood.
What to do? It will take a concerted effort by parents, educators, community agencies, and mental health practitioners to educate and guide parents and their children/adolescents in the safe use of the Internet.
Resources to help:
Dennis Ray Kinder, Ph.D., HSPP
CRG/Children’s Resource Group