For children growing up in the technological generation, the threat of bullying has excelled to a new playing field. Nowadays, adolescents have the capacity to harass each other through cell phones, text messaging, picture messaging, e-mail, chat rooms, social networks, and beyond. New scientific data is revealing that both teenage victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying undergo notably similar psychological and emotional conditions. Despite recent tragedies of modern-day bullying like those of Phoebe Prince and Carl J. Walker-Hoover, little research has been conducted on the effects of cyberbullying. Recently, a research team at Finland’s Turku University investigated the prevalence of cyberbullying and its consequences on adolescents’ health. In their study, researchers found that teenagers who are victims or perpetrators of cyberbullying, or both, experience a wide range of both physical and mental problems. The study, conducted by lead researcher Andre Sourander, MD, PhD and team, is available in the July open access issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry. The researchers surveyed 2,215 Finnish teenagers ages 13 to 16 in a cross-sectional study measuring their involvement in cyberbullying, cybervictimization, family situation, mental health, and substance use. Within the six months prior to the study, 4.8 percent of respondents were victims of cyberbullying, 7.4 percent of respondents were perpetrators of cyberbullying, and 5.4 percent of respondents were both bullies and victims of cyberbullying. The study showed that the majority of the cyberbullying was performed via instant messaging or discussion groups. Furthermore, victims and cyberbullies were most often of the same age and gender. When it came to cyberbullying, 16 percent of female respondents were harassed by boys, while only 5 percent of male respondents were harassed by girls.
The new threat of cyberbullying creates greater obstacles when it comes to protecting children. Unlike traditional bullying that usually involves physical confrontations and threats, rumors, cruel pranks, or social isolation, cyberbullying allows bullies to extend the playing field into more personal settings that can violate one’s sense of privacy. Cyberbullying can be performed instantaneously, in groups, and in multiple and simultaneous medias, allowing for hundreds of other individuals to join the ridicule, and making the harassment almost unavoidable. Most significantly, bullies may feel less inhibition when it comes to their aggressiveness since cyberbullying can virtually be performed anonymously. Sociality is somewhat removed in the technological arena, and teenagers can be victimized within the confines of their own homes and at all times of day.
Researchers conclude that cyberbullying is associated with both psychosomatic and psychiatric problems in teenagers, and that more preventative and interventionist methods are needed to protect kids from a threat that can virtually be present at all times. Cyberbullying can come in hundreds of different forms using today’s technology, and practically anyone can partake in cyberbullying who normally would not engage in aggressive behavior in social settings. Researchers point to their study’s results as evidence for the need of new policies to monitor and protect children and teens from the dangers of cyberbullying in school and home environments.