Young teens who are targets of cyberbullying are more likely to attempt suicide

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Young adolescents who are targets of cyberbullying are more likely to report suicidal thoughts and attempts, an association that goes above and beyond the link between suicidality and traditional offline bullying, according to new research from the Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBI) of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania. The findings were published today in JAMA Network Open.

“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,” said senior author Ran Barzilay, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor at LiBI. “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.”

Suicide rates among children have been steadily rising. According to the CDC, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 in 2018. The factors contributing to suicidality in children and adolescents are not fully understood, but research has shown that environmental stressors play a role. Traditional bullying and peer victimization are well established suicide risk factors among youth.

In modern times, and particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, a substantial proportion of peer interaction, including bullying, occurs online, through text messages or social media platforms. However, prior to this study, it was not clear whether being a target of cyberbullying is an independent risk factor for suicidality.

To better understand whether cyberbullying is unique in its association with suicidality in early adolescence, the researchers collaborated with Anat Brunstein Klomek, Ph.D. at Baruch Ivcher School of Psychology at Reichman University in Israel. Together, 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 10,000 US children between the ages of 10 and 13.

As part of the ABCD Study, participants filled out a cyberbullying questionnaire, which asked whether they had ever been a target or perpetrator of cyberbullying, defined as “purposefully trying to harm another person or be mean to them online, in texts or group texts, or on social media (like Instagram or Snapchat).”

Traditional offline bullying was surveyed through a separate questionnaire, which broke down behavior 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.

To determine suicidality, the researchers examined whether participants reported past or current suicidal thoughts or acts.

Of the 10,414 ABCD Study participants included in the study, 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 authors 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 adolescents affected by cyberbullying are different from those affected by offline bullying.

“Our findings suggest being a target of cyberbullying is an independent risk factor for youth suicidality,” Dr. Barzilay said. “For policy makers wishing to optimize youth suicide prevention efforts, this study should further encourage interventions for those who are being bullied online.”


Bullying is an aggressive behavior that is intentionally and repeatedly directed at individuals who have less power than the attacker does. Bullying may take many forms, including physical, verbal, and social bullying [1]. In its physical form, bullying includes hitting, pushing, spitting, and other physical acts. Bullying in the oral form includes mocking, name-calling, and threatening. In its social form, it consists of spreading rumors (slander), exclusion from peer groups, and other forms. When dealing with perpetrators, these three forms of bullying most commonly occur face to face [2].

Both cyberbullying and cyber victimization research have grown in popularity in recent years in various countries. Traditional forms of bullying, such as school bullying and school victimization, are still prevalent among children. The phenomenon of cyberbullying has gained scientists’ attention because it is a new form of bullying in the digital era. Individuals can now use new media to intimidate others [3]. Bullying has also grown as information and communications technology has advanced [3,4].

This situation makes sense, because indirect intimidation is considered the safest and most convenient approach, compared to traditional bullying. Bullying victims can be easily intimidated without their names being revealed [5]. Even the perpetrators can use digital media to quickly publicize intimidation acts to the general public. Cyberbullying has a more dangerous effect than traditional bullying; it can even encourage victims to respond reactively to accidents and deaths. This type of cyberbullying often happens in the educational setting, particularly among students [3].

Cyberbullying refers to humiliation, threats, sexual harassment, or social exclusion using information and communication technology [6]. For example, posting pictures or embarrassing comments about someone, or posing as someone dangerous. Cyberbullies attack victims by sending demeaning or threatening messages, and delivering images using websites, instant messages, blogs, chat rooms, cell phones, e-mails, and personal online profiles [7,8].

As such, it can be understood that cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying. This situation creates new challenges for educators involved in the learning process in schools and colleges. Teachers must recognize changes in student behavior in the digital age. Additionally, teachers are faced with the challenge of keeping students safe in school both in physical space and in virtual space, which has become a hazardous environment. Until now, there has been no regulation and supervision of security in the virtual room.

Many studies have investigated the prevalence of cyberbullying and cyber victim- ization, the relationship of cyberbullying with other antecedent factors (such as personal and contextual factors), motives for participation in cyberbullying actions, and the practice of effective cyberbullying prevention and intervention [9].

In addition, bullying often occurs in an educational setting, and it is extremely disruptive to the learning environment. Teachers are concerned about the impact of cyberbullying, which has the potential to cause serious issues at school. Teachers realize that they are unable to oversee students’ use of information and communication technologies on a one-on-one basis [10].

Students can bully without their names being revealed. Anyone, at any time, may view bullying content that is publicized by the perpetrators. Traditional bullying can have a more severe impact on mental health and academic issues than cyberbullying. In certain countries, fatalities such as suicide have occurred [3].

Victims of cyberbullying frequently suffer issues related to social skills and peer relations. Although information and communication technologies serve as a means of communication between users, students with offline relationship problems are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying [9].

This means that students need to be taught outstanding social skills at school/college. Thus, teachers need to understand the phenomenon of cyberbullying that occurs in the school environment. This includes how cyberbullying can occur, the impact that it has on students, and how preventive measures can be taken. Teachers may utilize this information to influence student behavior at universities. It also allows teachers to develop curricula and learning strategies to help students improve their social skills, both offline and online.

This literature review study aims to discuss the definition of cyberbullying, its causes and impacts, and protective factors [11].
Cyberbullying is associated with the expansion of the internet. The phenomenon is growing in Italy and other European and non-European countries. Cyberbullying causes psychopathological symptoms of anxiety, sadness, and social phobia in young people, which can lead to extreme acts, including suicide [12].

The pressure, the experience of isolation, and the weaknesses that result from cyberbullying have an additional effect on the victim’s family and their own circle of relatives. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that takes place online, is generally anonymous, and attempts to harm and make fun of victims [13].

There are numerous types of cyberbullying, and each leads to particular responses and results. Even so, few types of research have centered on young adults’ perceptions regarding cyberbullying. Teenagers regularly interact in competitive behavior, even by avoiding emotions and responses associated with victimization. According to several studies, the positive connection between exposure to violent video games and aggressive conduct among university students is moderated by the trait of anger. [14,15].

The technological ecosystems for adolescents and young adults have been altered, in the twenty-first century, by a dramatic shift in the technological environment. There are more mental health hazards associated with technological innovation. This research presents a narrative assessment of current cyber dangers confronting adolescents and young adults [16]. Not only that, but it also highlights the risks and consequences of cyberbullying, media platforms, cyber interpersonal violence, abuse of women, cybersex,

online harassment, online dating, cyberstalking, and phishing scams, with a focus on raising awareness and encouraging assertive initiatives to solve these societal problems as the digital era evolves [17].

After reading many literature reviews on cyberbullying in the age groups of 8–13 and 9–17, we decided to focus our study on college students, namely those aged 18 and above. This is a focus that differentiates our study from other, similar research. The goal of the current study was to determine the overall impact of cyberbullying on mental health. We also wished to investigate whether there was a substantial difference in mental health between males and females at King Faisal University, Saudi Arabia.

However, every generation has its view of cyberbullying, including teachers, some of whom are judged on their appearance, or due to racism and prejudice, among other things. Even when the bullying has ceased, cyberbullying can have long-term emotional consequences. Cyberbullying may also cause mental health problems, including tension and worry, sadness, aggressive behavior, and low levels of self-esteem.

The current research aimed to investigate the overall impact of cyberbullying on the mental health of college students of different age groups. Moreover, we also aimed to study the extent to which victimized persons (students) direct less concentration/less focus towards their academic performance.
Objectives:

To explore whether there is a relationship between cyberbullying and emotional mental health, i.e., depression, anxiety, and stress.

To evaluate the differences between males and females, as well as students at medical and non-medical colleges, with regard to the impact of cyberbullying on psychological disorders.

To explore whether there is a significant relationship between academic performance and mental health in relation to cyberbullying.

Literature Review
Today’s teenagers are completely connected in their everyday lives. Aboujaoude (2015) refers to today’s teenagers as completely wired, since they are constantly switching from one type of media to another [1]. Ongoing technological growth has brought about the continuous development of the concept of relationships. Non-mandatory entry to so- cial networks and online communities suggests instant presence broadcasting over the network [18].

Cyberbullying, also known as electronic bullying, is a well-known risk of technolog- ical evolution; it involves purposed and repeated actions toward at least one individual, using electronic devices [19]. Cyberbullying, like traditional bullying, is dependent on an asymmetrical relationship between the person who make the cyberbullying and the targeted person [20]. The main feature of cyberbullying is the anonymity guaranteed by the internet, which makes victims feel weak and lonely. [21].


The rates of cyberbullying vary significantly across studies conducted in European and non-European countries, with values ranging from 6.5% to 72% for cyber victimization [22]. For instance, according to a 2017 Brazilian survey conducted in the United States, between 33.8% and 39% of adolescents have reported being victims of cyberbullying at some point in their lives. Rates of cyber victimization in China span from 14% to 57%, and cyber violence from 3% to 35%, according to research published between 2013 and 2018 [23].

2.1. Cyberbullying and Mental Health
Victims of cyberbullying use alcohol and narcotics more often than other students in schools, and are more likely to be absent from school (United Nations Children’s Fund) [24]. In addition, they are more likely to perform poorly and have problems with self-esteem and health [25]. When it comes to cyberbullying, adolescents usually hesitate to confide in adults. Cyberbullying presents with the same symptoms as a post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide can result from these symptoms [26]. Harassment and cyberbullying are frequently linked to anxiety and depression. [27].

2.2. The Psychological Effects of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying has the potential to harm the victim’s mental health. Victims expe- rience increased levels of anger, helplessness, unhappiness, and fright [28]. The most significant emotional and non-physical results of cyberbullying include anger, helpless- ness, grief, and anxiety. Students who experience cyber victimization can develop symp- toms of depression [29]. However, traditional bullying has a stronger link to depressive symptoms, as compared to cyberbullying [30]. Other research has revealed that victims of cyberbullying suffer from increased levels of depression than victims of traditional bullying [31]. In addition, cyberbullying has a stronger link to anxiety symptoms than traditional bullying [32].
When students do not know who is intimidating them, the negative impacts intensify, leaving victims feeling helpless and afraid. This is highly understandable, given that cyberbullying is often carried out anonymously by perpetrators [33]. In comparison to those instances when the victim knows who is committing the cyberbullying, anonymity generates heightened feelings of disordered anxiety: that is, in instances when the victim is unaware of the perpetrator’s identity. The anonymity factor can make the victim feel less secure, resulting in a more pronounced power imbalance in cyber victimization than in traditional victimization [32].

2.3. Reactive Behavior
Cyberbullying victims may exhibit reactive behaviors, such as suicide attempts. This condition occurs due to ongoing depression, which eventually leads to the formation of suicidal ideation and attempts [34]. Several studies have found that cyberbullying has more severe consequences than traditional bullying. Cyberbullying has a greater incidence of depression, drug use, self-injury, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts, compared to traditional bullying [35]. The researcher states that involvement in cyberbullying, whether as a bully or a victim, functions as a predictor for symptoms of depression and thoughts of suicide, in a way that traditional forms of intimidation (physical, verbal, relational) do not [35]. Victims attempt suicide, and cyberbullying has been shown to have a direct influence on suicide attempts [35]. Young individuals who experience traditional bullying or cyberbullying, either as perpetrators or victims, have greater rates of suicidal thoughts and are more likely to attempt suicide than those who have not experienced any form of aggression from their peers [36].

2.4. Difficulties in Social and Academic Development
Another problem caused by cyberbullying is the inability to make friends [37]. Cyber- bullying enables victims and attackers to avoid facing social communications and building connections, which can have harmful emotional implications. [37]. Furthermore, perpe- trators of cyberbullying have lower levels of conscience [37]. Additionally, cyberbullying can also obstruct students’ academic development [37]. Feelings of pressure and shame discourage students from focusing on educational activities. Victims find it challenging to develop their academic, social, and emotional capacities [37].

2.5. The Role of the School Environment
Cyberbullying must receive serious attention from school stakeholders and must be addressed by teachers, parents, and peers [38]. Various protective strategies may be implemented to avoid cyberbullying, and education is an important component of cyber- bullying prevention and response. Educators must devise innovative techniques to engage young people in meaningful discussions regarding the use of accessible technology. In this context, they can create lessons that teach students to express their opinions appropriately on social media [39]. An encouraging school environment plays a vital role in reduc- ing the occurrence of cyberbullying [40]. Previous studies have revealed that a positive school climate [3,37] and school safety [3] can protect children from the victimization and oppression of cyberbullying [41].

2.6. The Role of the Family
Cyberbullying victims frequently have the lowest level of family support [42]. Parents can assist in anti-cyberbullying interventions by providing: (a) emotional and practical support for students, (b) knowledge of ICT safety, and (c) a structured environment, characterized by warm involvement and control of behavior, combined with discussions of and participation in children’s online lives, to promote critical thinking, respect, and finally autonomy [5]. Some types of social support can protect against cyberbullying. Specifically, perceived social support from the family and teacher reduces the likelihood of depression and anxiety symptoms, and a higher level of social support from the family increases the probability of a greater level of subjective well-being among children who are victims of cyberbullying [43].

2.7. The Role of Peers
A positive community can protect children from cyberbullying. Information and com- munications technology may be used as a medium for communication between users [6]. However, students who have offline relationship problems are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying [9]. Therefore, the role of positive interaction and peer support is vital to reducing the incidence of cyberbullying [43]. Previous studies revealed that positive peer influence and peer support are linked to decreased cyber victimization [3]. Further- more, choosing a positive community is a significant factor in reducing the occurrence of cyberbullying.

2.8. Individual Role
Protective measures against cyberbullying not only rely on situational factors but also on personal factors [6]. Students are thought to play a vital role in protecting them- selves against cyberbullying. Prosociality is expected to prevent cyber victimization and cyberbullying by lowering the frequency of technology usage, among other individual factors [3]. Additionally, social competence, intelligence, and problem-solving can protect against victimization [3,6].
Furthermore, the ViSC Social Competence Program is also proposed as a cyberbullying prevention program [44]. ViSC is a primary prevention program, with secondary prevention features to minimize violent behavior and intimidation in schools, as well as to promote social and intercultural competency [45]. Given that cyberbullying harms students, the findings of this study provide further evidence that teenage peer aggression must be addressed seriously both at school and at home. In addition, in programs that respond to cyber victimization and cyberbullying in the school setting, both the prevention of and intervention in cyberbullying are critical components [46].
All technological developments provide various benefits and unexpected losses. This includes impacts on the school environment and the way students learn. The downside of technological development is that it might have a bad influence: for example, when technology is used as a tool for cyberbullying [47]. The development of technology has had a significant influence on this new form of bullying. The ease with which people can use the internet, and other technical gadgets such as cell phones, has also contributed to the emergence of new forms of bullying. Individual relationships have been altered by the increased use of technology. Rapid changes in communication and social interaction have significant effects, both positive and negative, including encouraging the emergence of cyberbullying [3].
Cyberbullying refers to humiliation, threats, sexual harassment, or social exclusion using information and communications technology [6]. Perpetrators attack victims by sending demeaning or threatening messages and images using websites, instant messages, blogs, chat rooms, cell phones, e-mails, and personal online profiles [7,8,48]. As a result, it is clear that cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying. This situation creates new challenges for educators in the school/college learning process. In the digital era, teachers must be aware of changes in student behavior. Furthermore, they face the challenge of keeping students safe at school, both physically and virtually, which has become a hazardous environment. Until now, there has been no regulation or supervision of virtual room security [12].

reference link : https:// doi.org/10.3390/su14116881


More information: Association of Cyberbullying Experiences and Perpetration with Suicidality in Early Adolescence, JAMA Network Open (2022). DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.18746

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