Online Bullying Just As Harmful To Kids As The Physical Kind
February 11, 2013

Online Bullying Just As Harmful To Kids As The Physical Kind

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

While online bullying can be looked at as if it was just a virtual problem, new research indicates that it can have the same effects as those children who are bullied offline as well.

Researchers wrote in the International Criminal Justice Review (ICJR) about how children who are bullied online are just as likely to skip school or consider suicide as those physically bullied.

Michigan State University (MSU) researchers used survey data from more than 3,000 3rd- through 11th-grade students in Singapore and then analyzed the relationships between physical bullying, and cyber-bullying.

They found that 22 percent of students who were physically bullied skipped school, or thought about doing so, while 27 percent of students who were bullied online, and 28 percent who were bullied via text messages, had the same thought about skipping school.

According to the results, 22 percent of students who were physically bullied had suicidal thoughts, while 28 percent of those facing bullies online, and 26 percent facing the same through text messages, said the same.

Thomas Holt, associate professor of criminal justice and leader of the study, told redOrbit in an email that the greatest difference between on and off-line bullying experiences involves the persistence of the encounter, and the emotional impact.

"If a student is being bullied by another student at school, they may be able to avoid that student," Holt told redOrbit. "Alternatively the bullying may end when the youth leaves school, if their bully does not live nearby."

He added that the experience of online bullying cannot be avoided.

"Email or text messages can be easily sent and resent. Individuals can post hurtful messages on Facebook or Twitter that may be liked or reposted by others. The same is true regarding videos posted online," said Holt.

The criminologist said a victim may try to block the offending email or phone number, but this action only goes so far. "The fact that others can see the bullying messages and even participate in the virtual experience (which they may not otherwise do in the real world) makes the online bullying more challenging for victims emotional and mental health," he told redOrbit.

"While online bullying does not have the same physicality as real world bullying (being hit or pushed by a bully), the name calling and emotional abuse that is otherwise evident can continue throughout the day online."

When asked what adults would be able do to help put a dent in the problems that lie in both online and offline bullying, Thomas said school administrators, teachers, parents and students can have frank conversations about how technology is used and what constitutes ethical speech in the viral world.

"While many schools have policies related to traditional bullying behaviors such as physical violence or verbal bullying, there is some variation in how cyber-bullying policies are conceived and implemented," Holt told redOrbit. "This is particularly challenging because schools may overreach their respective boundaries by attempting to regulate student behavior outside of the campus."

He suggested schools find ways to bridge this gap, and involve the adults overseeing the kids into the discussion.

Although regulating technology use seems like a counterproductive measure, Holt says it is not a total solution due to how easily accessible the Internet is.

"One of the most important strategies may be to increase youths´ willingness to report when they see bullying happen to their parents or teachers," he told redOrbit in the email. "Acknowledging a bullying problem, particularly online where it may go unnoticed by parents or educators, can help to increase awareness of this issue and find strategies to reduce exposure to bullying behaviors."

He added that this is just a "preliminary step" in trying to combat "a much larger problem."