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Long-Term Effects of Cyber and Traditional Bullying

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT
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The Negative Effects of Bullying

The first scientific studies on bullying began to appear in the 1970s. Since then, the negative effects of bullying for both bullying victims and the individuals engaging in bullying behaviors have been well documented. A landmark study published in Children & Schools: A Journal of the National Association of Social Workers in March, 2004 indicates bullying victims are known to be at greater risk for social isolation, anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, and substance use disorders. Though less likely to display social isolation and anxiety, individuals who engage in bullying behavior demonstrate greater risk for participating in activities such as underage drinking and smoking. They’re also more likely to show signs of poor emotional development and overall school adjustment. With the advent of the Internet and a dramatic increase in the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, a new form of bullying has developed over the past decade: cyber bullying. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health examines this new, uniquely 21st century phenomenon and compares its prevalence and correlation to traditional bullying.

Cyber Bullying: A Hidden Problem

One of the dangers of cyber bullying, as compared to traditional bullying, is that it can often occur out of the sight of school administrators, teachers, and parents. In addition, it can often occur in a manner which is indecipherable to adults. As most adults know, it’s difficult to keep track of adolescent slang, which results in a compounded problem for adults: not only is it difficult to identify where and how cyber bullying is taking place, it’s also hard to tell whether it’s even taking place at all because the language used can be incredibly difficult to decode. Despite these inherent challenges, scores of studies related to cyber bullying have been conducted over the past decade, and a recent publication—a meta-analysis of 80 papers on the relationship of cyber bullying and traditional bullying—gives child development professionals, school administrators, teachers and parents an update on the most current data available on the subject.

The Results: Cyber Bullying Less Common Than Traditional Bullying  

A comprehensive statistical analysis of the literature on traditional and cyber bullying showed the following:

  • Traditional bullying is almost twice as common as cyber bullying
  • Individuals who engage in traditional bullying are very likely to engage in cyber bullying
  • While traditional bullying almost always happens between individuals who know one another, online bullying can occur between people who are total strangers
  • Most school interventions focus on traditional bullying as opposed to cyber bullying

A Multi-Layered Approach

Though the data indicate that cyber bullying is less prevalent than traditional bullying, the authors of the study recommend that school administrators, teachers, and parents expand their awareness to include this new wrinkle in bullying when considering best practices for counteracting bullying in general. This expanded awareness is especially important in light of the findings of a separate study, which indicate that when compared to traditional bullying, online bullying and harassment are more likely to cause suicidal ideation in adolescent victims. Another facet of the cyber bullying phenomenon is that youth may be less likely to report its occurrence, since in doing so they may have to admit to online behaviors that were previously unknown to their parents and teachers. This could lead to both children and adolescents suffering the indignities of bullying in silence out of fear of consequences on multiple levels. When considered as a whole, the complex factors related to bullying and cyber bullying foreground the importance of teaching our children from a young age about the dangers of social aggression – a.k.a. bullying – and highlight the necessity of implementing prevention programs that include online and offline behaviors in equal measure.

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