The Latest Research on Teen Cyberbullying

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With the vast majority of teens spending hours upon hours of time online, teen cyberbullying has become rampant. Social media and other online forums provide ways for teens to bully peers without real-life repercussions. Less online supervision and increased stress among this age group have also contributed to higher rates of cyberbullying.

Even without a physical component, cyberbullying has a significant negative impact on teens. It causes distress and can exacerbate symptoms of teen anxiety, teen depression, and teen isolation. Moreover, cyberbullying has led to several highly publicized teen suicides. These are critical concerns during a time when an unprecedented number of adolescents are struggling with their mental health.

A challenge for parents and educators is how quickly change happens online. While parents are worrying about teens being bullied on Instagram or Snapchat, TikTok cyberbullying is becoming common. Moreover, it’s difficult for adults to report cyberbullying when they are often unaware that it’s taking place. Thus, the best approach is to talk to teens about what they’re experiencing. By having ongoing open communication, asking questions, and listening closely, parents and mentors of teens may uncover valuable information.

What is Teen Cyberbullying?

Teenage bullying is when a bully uses physical strength or social influence to intimidate a perceived weaker person. Teenage cyberbullying involves the same patterns of intimidation but takes place on digital devices, such as cellphones and computers, via online interactions on social media and gaming platforms.

Cyberbullying typically takes the form of a teen sending or posting harmful or false content about a peer, or sharing another teen’s personal or private information, with the goal of causing embarrassment or humiliation. For example, a cyberbully might share an awkward picture of another teen, or a post taken out of context. TikTok cyberbullying usually takes the form of sharing a humiliating video, or making mean comments on other users’ videos. Bullying also takes place via instant messaging apps or text messages.

The Latest Teen Cyberbullying Statistics

A new report on online bullying found that 81 percent of cyberbullying organizations saw an increase in this behavior during 2020. In addition, the report found that 62 percent of American youth have been the victims of cyberbullying—up from 36.5 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, the number of perpetrators went up from 14.8 to 25.2 percent during that time frame.

Another study, from the AI startup L1GHT, analyzed data from websites, social platforms, chatting forums, and gaming sites in 2020. The study documented a 70 percent increase in cyberbullying among kids and teens during online chats, and a 40 percent increase in toxic interactions on popular video gaming platforms such as Discord.

More parents are seeking help for teen cyberbullying as well. According to Google Trends, 80 percent more parents have been searching for information on cyberbullying since the start of 2020.

Newport Academy Resources Restoring Families: Teen Cyberbullying

The Mental Health Effects of Cyberbullying

Online harassment does significant psychological and emotional damage. Research shows that adolescents who experience cyberbullying are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicidal behavior, and physical symptoms triggered by mental health issues. Moreover, teens who perpetrate cyberbullying have higher rates of substance use, aggression, and delinquent behaviors.

Here are some recent statistics on the mental health impacts of cyberbullying on teens.

  • Teen cyberbullying victims are more than twice as likely to engage in self-harming or suicidal behavior.
  • In one study, 93 percent of cyberbullying victims reported negative mental health effects, primarily feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
  • Two-thirds of students who experienced cyberbullying say that it “really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.”
  • One-third of all cyberbullying victims experience at least one symptom of stress.
  • 66 percent of female victims have feelings of powerlessness because of cyberbullying.
  • Both targets and perpetrators of online harassment are more likely to have low self-esteem.

Furthermore, researchers have found that being a victim of cyberbullying has a more negative effect on adolescents’ social and emotional well-being than traditional bullying. Given these disturbing statistics on teenage cyberbullying, parents, teens, school administrators, and policymakers need to work together to end online harassment.

Where Does Teen Cyberbullying Happen? 

Unlike face-to-face teenage bullying, cyberbullying creates a sense of distance—in both time and space—between bullies and their victims. This gap gives bullies the illusion of anonymity, and thus increases a tendency toward even harsher harassment. Places where cyberbullying occurs among teens include the following:

  • Social media platforms like TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and YOLO (a question-and-answer app that teen cyberbullies use to shame and embarrass vulnerable adolescents, by asking hurtful questions about them)
  • Text messaging on cell phones and other devices, including both one-on-one messages and group messaging
  • Gaming forums or during online video game playing, where teens play gaming characters in multiplayer formats.
  • Instant messages delivered via social media messaging features, smartphone apps, and other messaging services
  • Anonymous messaging apps and sites like Kik, Sarahah, and Askfm, which allow for messages and feedback without identifying the source
  • Email, although this is less common since teens now see email as being somewhat old-fashioned.

To combat cyberbullying, some platforms have developed stricter policies and reporting platforms. For example, Instagram has a page with specific guidelines where people can report Instagram frauds. And Snapchat has developed a Snapchat Safety Center that makes reporting any abuses on the platform faster and easier. There is also a TikTok Safety Center.

Newport Academy Resources Restoring Families: Teen Cyberbullying

Teen Cyberbullying Methods 

There are many different types of cyberbullying. The most common teen cyberbullying tactics include

  • Posting comments about a teen online that are cruel, hurtful, or embarrassing
  • Posting an embarrassing picture or video of a teenager
  • Starting rumors about a teen online that damage their reputation
  • Ask nasty questions that are designed to hurt their feelings
  • Posting hateful slurs or comments about a teen’s race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnicity online
  • Threatening online to hurt a teen, or encouraging them to self-harm or to kill themselves
  • Posing as someone else online to solicit personal or false information about a teenager, including impersonating a teenager online
  • Doxing (from the word “documents”)—online harassment in which a teen’s personal information is made public, including addresses, social security numbers, credit cards, and phone numbers. This can lead to identity theft.

What makes cyberbullying particularly insidious for teens is that it can happen anywhere, at any time, and the perpetrators can be either known or anonymous.

What Parents Can Do to Stop Social Media Harassment

Adults can help prevent cyberbullying by talking to teenagers about these behaviors. Here are some cyberbullying prevention strategies.

  • Encourage teens to never share their passwords, private photos, or personal data online. This can help prevent fake social media accounts such as Instagram frauds.
  • Remind teens to think before they post. If they are upset or angry, they need to pause and wait before engaging with social media.
  • Remind teens of how quickly online images and information can be spread. When they share something, it might be shared with anyone.
  • Advise teens to imagine when posting or sending a message how they would feel if someone said that about them.
  • Coach teens to take steps to prevent future cyberbullying and social media harassment by managing safety features across their social media platforms.

Parents can also use TikTok safety features like Family Pairing, which allows them to control how long a teen can spend on TikTok each day, limit the appearance of content that may not be appropriate, and restrict or turn off direct messaging. Moreover, TikTok just expanded this feature by adding advice for parents on how to approach conversations with teens about digital literacy and safety.

What Teens Can Do to Combat Cyberbullying

Here are some positive responses and proactive steps that teens can take:

  • Foremost, teens should not participate in cyberbullying by “liking” or commenting on images, posts, or videos that humiliate others.
  • Teens who experience TikTok cyberbullying or another form of online bullying need to let adults know what is happening. Such feedback is not “tattling,” but rather preventing damage and distress.
  • Also, teens should report harassment. Given the growing awareness around teen cyberbullying, most platforms have reporting mechanisms.

Addressing the Impacts of Cyberbullying on Teens

Teen cyberbullying and social media harassment can trigger or exacerbate adolescent mental health issues. If teens are experiencing suicidal thoughts or other symptoms of depression or anxiety, treatment is essential.

Contact Newport Academy today to learn more about how we guide teens to rebuild self-worth and form strong, trusting connections with peers.

Images courtesy of unsplash

Sources:

J Med Internet Res. 2018 Apr;20(4):e129.

 Front Psychol. 2018 Mar; 9: 367.

 Adolesc Health Med Ther. 2014; 5: 143–158.