Surprising Facts About Cyberbullying

At least one in five teens has been the victim of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. This form of harassment uses computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices instead of fists, but it can make a young person’s life just as miserable.

Yet many people still don’t take online bullying as seriously as the offline kind. Below are some surprising facts about this often-misunderstood problem.

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Cyberspace Bullying Can Have Real-World Effects

Cyberbullyng has been linked to depression, anxiety, falling grades, and school absences. Anecdotally, it has also been implicated in a string of high-profile suicides.

In one case that garnered a lot of attention, 18-year-old Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from a bridge to his death. Days before, his roommate had used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man and then sent out Twitter and text messages urging others to watch. In March 2012, a jury found the roommate guilty of a hate crime.

Cyberbullies Are Different from Face-to-Face Ones

Think of the schoolyard punk roughing up smaller kids or the mean girl picking on less popular classmates. These are classic examples of in-person bullying. But this power imbalance doesn’t necessarily apply to cyberbullying, according to researcher Jennifer Shapka, an education professor at the University of British Columbia.

The boundary between roles—bully, victim, or witness—is also more fluid. The same person who is the target of hurtful comments on Facebook might post embarrassing photos of someone else.

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Online Bullying Is Closer to a Taunt than a Shove

On the surface, cyberbullying seems to have more in common with an insult than a bloody nose, and research bears that out. A study of high school students in Lithuania showed that being the victim of physical bullying didn’t affect the risk for cyberbullying. But being singled out for in-person verbal and social abuse increased the risk.

Students Often Downplay the Impact of Cyberbullying

The evidence is clear: Cyberbullying can be harmful to a young person’s emotional and academic well-being. Yet in Shapka’s research, presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, young people often underestimated the harm that could be done. Many were quick to dismiss cyberbullying as “just joking.”

Teachers Sometimes Brush off Cyberbullying as Well

Perhaps more surprisingly, some teachers also minimize the seriousness of cyberbullying. In a new study in Psychology in the Schools, researchers from Brigham Young University asked 66 high school teachers about their attitudes toward this type of behavior. One-fourth did not believe that cyberbullying had long-lasting negative effects. The same number indicated that it might prepare students for life.

Both Victims and Bullies May Suffer Consequences

Studies suggest that cyberbullying shouldn’t be taken so lightly. It has been linked with a number of negative outcomes. And victims aren’t the only ones who suffer; bullies may be at risk, too.

One study of middle school students showed that both parties had lower self-esteem than those whose lives hadn’t been touched by cyberbullying.

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