The advancement of technology has helped society as it has provided opportunities for better communication and unlimited access to information. However, although electronic technology has various benefits, there are also consequences with using it (Wright 113). With approximately 71 percent of American children using social media, many adolescents are unaware of a world without technology (Wright 113).
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Because the adolescent population has fully embraced the digital world compared to past generations, they are more susceptible to cyberbullying (Wright 114). In the past decade, cyberbullying has become more prevalent in society due to the skyrocketing popularity of social media. According to Bauman, bullying is defined as “a type of aggressive (purposefully harmful) behavior that is intentional, repeated, and based on a power imbalance between the aggressor and the target” (249). Similar to confrontational bullying, cyberbullying is still a form of bullying. However, rather than the bullying occurring face-to-face, cyberbullying is executed through digital platforms such as text messages or social media sites (Van Hee et al. 1). Furthermore, unlike face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can occur at any time of the day.
There are various forms of cyberbullying. For example, flaming, harassment, cyberstalking, denigration, masquerading, outing, and exclusion are all classified as forms of cyberbullying (Cowie 167). Some known contexts in which cyberbullying might occur are when a peer envies another peer’s success, prejudice intolerance over ethnicity, gender, and disability, and after a romantic relationship or friendship ends (Cowie 167). As cyberbullying continues to be a growing concern for young people, recent studies have shown that cyberbullying can lead to depression and anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts and actions, social withdrawal, and decreased academic achievement and attendance among adolescents. Therefore, cyberbullying does negatively impact the mental and physical health of adolescents.
To begin with, children who are bullied over the internet are more likely to become depressed and develop anxiety (Agarwal et al. 60; Wright 114). The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a type of mental illness that affects how an individual thinks, feels, and acts (Parekh). Whereas, the National Institute of Mental Health states that social anxiety disorder is also a mental illness that causes an individual to have feelings of uneasiness and worry towards events or activities, especially when the individual is unsure of the outcome. Additionally, in 2014, it was estimated that 2.8 million American children had a depressive episode (“Anxiety and Depression in Children”). Of this 2.8 million children, 43 percent of them have been cyberbullied while 25.1 percent have been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder (“Facts & Statistics”; “11 Facts About Cyberbullying”). Unfortunately, as studies have shown, as more children are cyberbullied, the percentage of children who have anxiety and depression will also increase. In turn, this further validates that depression and anxiety in adolescents can be direct results of cyberbullying.
Because cyberbullying can be seen as an extension of traditional bullying, the effects are likely to be physical as well. Studies have shown that self-harm is directly linked to cyberbullying (John 1). One particular form of self-harm that cyber-victims use is cutting. Due to the fact cyber-victims do not want to think only about the pain of the online harassment, the victim will try to shift the attention to the pain from cutting him or herself (Dombeck). For example, in a study conducted by Šléglová and ?erná, they surveyed 15 students between the ages of 14 to 18 years old. The participants consisted of 13 girls and 2 boys. The researchers online interviewed these students to ask about their experience with cyberbullying and their coping strategies (Šléglová and ?erná 4). This helped the researchers determine the consequences of cyberbullying, one of which was self-harm. Three students reported of self-harm in the form of cutting. One respondent stated that she began cutting herself after cyberbullying because it helped relieve anxiety (Šléglová and ?erná 8). To the cyber-victim, the physical pain from a cut is less painful than the emotional pain from the cyberbullying. Thus, when the victim cuts him or herself, they are able to forget about their cyber-problems for a short time (John 1). In turn, this provides them with temporary relief.
For some cyber-victims, they use cutting oneself to express themselves (Dombeck). Sometimes, an individual is unable to communicate how they feel or the pain they are going through, but by cutting themselves they think they are expressing their pain (Dombeck). The third possible reason why a cyber-victim may cut is to self-punish. This is because “the voice or perspective of the abuser gets implanted into the minds of the victims in such a way that the victim starts to judge him or herself in the same way” (Dombeck). In other words, the student may self-inflict pain because the student is cyberbullied so much to think that they it is their own fault that they are being online harassed.
Further evidence indicates that children are more susceptible to developing eating disorders because of cyberbullying. While there is no significant correlation between cyberbullying and eating disorders, there is a correlation between cyberbullying and unhealthy diets which can eventually lead to eating disorders (Marco and Tormo-Irun). Cyberbullies most commonly degrade and “body-shame” other online users. Cyber victims typically “[receive] harassing emails or text messages about one’s body…[and] derogatory images about his/her body over the Internet (Marco and Tormo-Irun). Indeed, these negative body image comments can take a toll on adolescents mentally and physically as their humiliation drives them to attempt harsh diets or skip meals.
Marco and Tormo-Irun conducted a study in Spain to assess 676 children, ranging from 12 to 19 years old. The research used a cyber victimization and body appearance evaluation as predictor variables and eating disorders psychopathology for the dependent variable (Marco and Tormo-Irun). As a result, the study revealed that cyber victimization is a factor in why adolescents are dissatisfied with their physical appearances. Consequently, children’s body image dissatisfaction can then progress into other symptoms of eating disorder psychopathology, such as “difficulties in regulating eating behavior [and] binge eating symptoms” (Marco and Tormo-Irun). If left untreated, these poor dietary habits can impact the overall quality of life.
In addition, cyberbullying can also stimulate suicidal thoughts and attempts among adolescents. To emphasize, 12-year-old Floridian, Gabriella Green, was revealed to have committed suicide in January 2018 due to being cyberbullied by two other children (Lynch). Police officers found evidence of the cyberbullying in Green’s phone. While the cyberbullies were unnamed, the female student did confess to verbally abusing Green through social media platforms and text messages (Lynch). Because of the online harassment, Green’s mental health deteriorated which lead to her depression and suicidal thoughts. Moreover, it was reported that Green did reach out and voice her suicidal thoughts during a video chat with one of the cyberbullies (Lynch). However, the cyberbully did not attempt to discourage her or alert the authorities. Instead, he encouraged Green to commit suicide. This further proves the dangers of cyberbullying and how it is detrimental to a child’s mental health.
Moreover, cyberbullying can cause children to have social withdrawal. Usually, children who are cyberbullied also experience traditional bullying (Cowie 168). Thus, they will often feel like they are not accepted by their peers and that they cannot escape from their in-person and online attackers. As a result, they are more likely to isolate themselves from all social activities due to low self-esteem (Cowie 168). For example, the child may choose not to partake in playing sports, speaking to other children, or attending parties. The child will limit any and all social interactions. However, the more the child isolates him or herself, it will cause him or her to feel alone (Cowie 167). Consequently, if the child continues to isolate him or herself, research shows that the child will carry those same habits into adulthood, which is not only harmful to the child’s mental health, but it will also stunt the child’s ability to communicate and overall development to thrive in society.
Furthermore, cyberbullying is known to decrease academic achievement and attendance amongst adolescents. Some studies have found a positive correlation between “cyberbullying [and] negative school experiences, such as lower academic performance and negative perceptions of school climate” (Schneider et al. 172). For example, in 2008, a group of researchers conducted a study on 20,406 students from 22 high schools in Boston metropolitan area (Schneider et al. 171-172). All of the students were asked to complete a survey. The students were asked questions about cyberbullying and traditional bullying within the past 12 months, psychological distress, sociodemographic, school performance, and school size (Schneider et al. 171).
Based on the data collected from the surveys, the researchers discovered that the students who were only cyberbullied had lower school performance and lower attachment to school. To illustrate, students that received failing grades, D’s and F’s, were also cyberbullied whereas students who were not cyberbullied received mostly A’s. Cyberbullying can effect school performance because the student is unable to focus on their schoolwork and they are constantly concerned with the online harassment they are receiving on a day by day basis (Schneider et al. 172). Not to mention, due to the low school attachment, the cyberbullied students do not prioritize and value school in comparison to those that are not internet bullied. Hence, cyberbullying affects a child’s ability to focus and excel in school even though the cyberbullying is occurring off school campus.
All in all, many individuals may argue that preventing cyberbullying is as simple as ignoring the negative comments, turning off a device, or deactivating one’s social media profile. However, it is not. Because children are highly impressionable and tend to seek validation from their peers, they are vulnerable to being deeply affected by cyberbullies’ attacks, especially on their physical appearance. Cyberbullying amplifies children’s insecurities and fosters low self-esteem, social anxiety, and poor school performance. Moreover, cyberbullying can have long-term mental and physical ramifications on adolescents’ personal, social, and academic development. Thus, cyberbullying will continue to be a significant influence on the mental and physical health of cyber victims, especially with the increasing use of technology in individuals’ daily lives.
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