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Cyber Bullying Hardest on Victims

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new area of study for reserearchers is the cyber bullying that seems to be the hardest to take for victims. Scientists, studying the effect of online or cell phone bullying, find it is the victim who suffers the most, though those that torment others are also prone to mental health issues.

Scientists are calling cyber bullying “toxic”, and were surprised to find the level of depression that can come from being tormented online or by way of cell phones. Lead author Jing Wang, Ph.D. says the level of depression induced by tormentors on their victims is an unexpected finding.

Jorge Srabstein, M.D, medical director of the Clinic for Health Problems Related to Bullying at Children's National Medical Center, says the study highlights the toxicity of making fun of others online or through texting.

Compared to face-to-face tormenting among middle school age youth, the type that occurs in cyberspace leads to greater depression for victims. For some, it can result in suicide.

According to Srabstein, the difference between the two is, when “somebody writes an insult on the bathroom wall…it’s confined to the environment of the school. But with cyber bullying, “in the majority of victimization, there is a wider resonance of abuse, to all corners of the world.

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Individuals can be more isolated when bullying occurs by cell phone or computer,” Iannotti said. “The mechanism for cyber bullying is ‘I’m making fun of you; I could have made a photo of you that’s not even true and it can go to Facebook.’ The audience is much greater. That can be devastating – not knowing how many people have seen that text message or photo.” The researchers say the impact is the same for boys and girls and usually peaks around middle school.

Study co-author Ronald Iannotti, Ph.D. points out the difficulty determining whether depressed kids already have low self-esteem, making them easier targets, or if bullying diminishes feelings of self-worth.

Data Shows Prevalence of “Toxic” Cyber Bullying

The Health Behavior in School-Aged Children 2005 Survey showed more than half of students had either engaged in cyber-bullying or were victims in the form of name calling and isolating peers. One fifth had engaged in physical bullying by hitting or being struck, and 14 percent had been a part of cyber-bullying.

One of the problems is that kids are afraid to speak up about being victims. Unfortunately, it’s universally ingrained that reporting bullying is being a ‘snitch’ and trying to get someone in trouble,” Srabstein said. “Instead of punishing perpetrators, they should undergo counseling about the harm they have inflicted and understand that they must to stop the mistreatment.”

Laws are in the works in some states to protect victims from cyber bullying that can lead to depression. Missouri has done just that, adding bullying policies to existing laws that include the terms “electronics” and cyber-bullying.

A suggestion from Iannotti is…“parents should monitor children’s phones and computers,” another tough sell. Rather than punishing kids who cyber bully, he also suggests counseling to help kids understand the harm that can come to victims of tormenting on the internet and cell phones.

Journal of Adolescent Health