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Emotional Troubles for 'Cyberbullies' and Victims

Study Shows Mental and Physical Impact of Cyberbullying on Victims and Bullies
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 6, 2010 -- New research sheds important light on the prevalence, extent, and consequences of "cyberbullying" as well as some of the emotional and physical characteristics of cyberbullies and their victims. Both the cyberbullies and those who they bully online are more likely to report a host of physical and mental problems, according to a new study in the July issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

A relatively new phenomenon, cyberbullying is defined as "an aggressive intentional act carried out by a group or individual using electronic forms of contact repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself," according to the study.

The increase in cyberbullying dovetails with the explosion in the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices by children.

Unlike traditional bullying, which largely relies on physical threats, rumors, and exclusion, cyberbullies can reach larger audiences via social media and other technology, making it difficult for the intended victim to escape their bullies. Cyberbullies can also do so relatively anonymously.

The new study included information on 2,215 Finnish teens aged 13 to 16. Overall, 4.8% of the teens said that they were victimized by cyberbullies, 7.4% admitted to being cyberbullies, and 5.4% said they were both cyberbullies and had been cyberbullied.

Most of the cyberbullying was done via computer instant messages and discussion groups, the study showed. Cyberbullies often harassed peers of the same age. Sixteen percent of girls surveyed said they were bullied by boys, whereas just 5% of boys said they were cyberbullied by girls.

Emotional and Physical Issues

Victims of cyberbullying reported emotional, concentration, and behavioral issues, as well as trouble getting along with their peers. These teens were also more likely to report frequent headaches, recurrent stomach pain, and difficulty sleeping; one in four said they felt unsafe at school. What's more, those teens who were victimized by cyberbullies were less likely to be living with both biological parents, the researchers report.

Cyberbullies also reported emotional difficulties, concentration, and behavior issues and difficulty getting along with others. They were also more likely to be hyperactive, have conduct problems, abuse alcohol, and smoke cigarettes.

In addition, cyberbullies also reported frequent headaches and feeling unsafe at school. Those teens who were both cyberbullies and victims reported all of these physical and mental health issues, the study found.

"Policy makers, educators, parents, and adolescents themselves should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of cyber bullying," conclude the researchers, who were led by Andre Sourander, MD, PhD, a child psychiatrist at Turku University in Finland. "Future research is needed on whether anti-bullying policies materials, interventions and mobile telephone and Internet user guidelines are effective for reducing cyberbullying."

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