By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A new study conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that cyber-bullying may be even harder on the victims than physical beatings or name-calling.
According to the NIH, in traditional forms of bullying, which involve physical violence, verbal taunts or social exclusion, both bullies and their victims tend to suffer from depression. But in this new report, cyber bullies are not suffering depression rates as high as their victims.
“Notably, cyber victims reported higher depression than cyber bullies or bully-victims, which was not found in any other form of bullying,” the study authors wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “…unlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser; as such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack.”
The analysis, of sixth through tenth grade students, was conducted by Jing Wang, Ph.D., Tonja R. Nansel, Ph.D., and Ronald J. Iannotti, Ph.D., all of the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Dr. Iannotti noted that, although bullies are less likely to report feelings of depression than are bully-victims or victims, they are more likely to report depression than are youth not involved with any bullying behaviors – either traditional bullying or cyber bullying.
Compared to students who were not involved with bullying, the research found that adolescents who were bullies, bully victims, or victims tended to score higher on the measures of depression. Those frequently involved with physical, verbal, and relational bullying, whether victims or perpetrators, reported higher levels of depression than did students only occasionally involved in these behaviors.
For physical violence, no differences were found in depression scores among bullies or their victims.
For cyber bullying, however, frequent victims reported significantly higher levels of depression than frequent bullies and marginally higher depression than frequent bully-victims. The finding that victims of cyber bullying reported higher depression scores than cyber bully victims was distinct from traditional forms of bullying and merited further study.
The problem of bullying remains high in America. In a study published last year, Dr. Iannotti and his team found that 20.8 percent of U.S. adolescents in school reported to having been bullied physically at least once in the last two months. More than half said they were bullied both verbally and socially, with 13.6 percent admitting to having been bullied electronically.
The U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration advises parents to encourage children to tell them immediately if they are victims of cyberbullying or other troublesome online behaviors. The agency also lists a number of steps that parents can take to help prevent cyber bullying and how to respond to it, which can be found here.
The site also includes extensive information on preventing and dealing with traditional forms of bullying, which is available here.
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