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Cyberbullying and Its Impact on Development

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."

Victim and Cyberbully

Patchin notes a surprising twist: cyberbully victims may eventually respond with cyberbullying or other deviant behavior of their own. "The General Strain Theory, which was proposed by criminologist Robert Agnew, suggests that individuals who are stressed or strained due to the inability to achieve positively valued goals, the removal of positive stimuli, or the presentation of negative stimuli are more at risk for engaging in delinquency as a coping mechanism," explains Patchin. "This is especially true when the strain leads to anger or frustration. Cyberbullying could be a source of strain or the result of strain. That is, students who are strained by failing to be successful at school, by breaking up with a significant other or being bullied may cyberbully others as a response to that strain."

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Other Impacts

Stopbullying.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, includes a list of additional potential effects of cyberbullying, including the use of alcohol and drugs, school truancy, in-person bullying, unwillingness to attend school, poor grades, and health problems. The extensive list of emotional and physical effects is motivating parents nationwide to establish rules about how their children use technology and to monitor kids' usage more often. The Stopbullying.gov site, along with an array of other anti-bullying sites, offers parents tips on how to battle cyberbullying and steps to take when cyberbullying is suspected. As always, parents can be their children's first line of defense.

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