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Cyberbullying and Its Impact on Development

It may not come to punches but computer-based bullying can be just as hurtful

Bullying in any form can thrust a victim into a world of hurt and anxiety. This unwanted, repeated and aggressive behavior is receiving increased attention, as its newest form -- cyberbullying -- threatens to haunt its victims 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Cyberbullying, which includes harassment and mistreatment of another person, can be executed through computers, cell phones and any other electronic device. The increase of cyberbullying in recent years, together with concerning research findings about its relationship to low self-esteem and its impact on a child's emotions, are driving parents, schools and policymakers to redouble their efforts against cruel cyber behavior.

Undesirable Emotions

According to Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D., associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Clair and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, "From our research, we can see that the consequences of cyberbullying seem to be similar to those of traditional schoolyard bullying." He points out that victims report feeling sad, angry, frustrated and helpless. Research conducted by Patchin and Cyberbullying Research Center co-founder Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., in 2007 revealed that, of 468 students who had been bullied, 34 percent reported feeling frustrated, 30 percent reported feeling angry and 21 percent reported feeling sad. Additionally, they found that a greater proportion of females felt these emotions as compared to males. The researchers report that "the emotional responses to cyberbullying are problematic in the sense that they could precipitate other, more serious behavioral outcomes."

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Low Self-Esteem

Patchin also states that "we have found a relationship between experience with cyberbullying and low self-esteem and suicidal ideation." Patchin and Hinduja say that research they conducted with about 2,000 middle-school students from a large U.S. school district shows that cyberbullying victims and offenders both had significantly lower self-esteem than those who have not experienced it. "We know that cyberbullying and low self-esteem are related, but we can’t say with any certainty whether cyberbullying causes one to have low self-esteem or if having low self-esteem makes one an easier target," adds Patchin, stressing that it is a question that can only be answered with longitudinal or over-time data that has yet to be collected. Patchin also notes that "there have been too many examples of teens who have committed suicide after experiencing cyberbullying, though in many cases targets were experiencing other emotional, psychological or relational problems leading to the suicide."

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