Cyber-bullying affects one in five youngsters in UK

Published: 1 August 2011 at 16:09

Anglia Ruskin research discovers impact on young people’s mental health

Almost one in five young people in the UK have been the victim of cyber-bullying, according to research carried out by academics at Anglia Ruskin University.

The study, commissioned by leading children’s charity the National Children’s Bureau on behalf of its Wellcome Trust-funded PEAR young people’s group, examined the scale of cyber-bullying and the negative effect it has on young people’s mental health.

Cyber-bullying is a relatively new problem which involves people using the internet or mobile phones to distribute text or images to harass, hurt or embarrass another person.

Steven Walker, Principle Lecturer in Child & Adolescent Mental Health at Anglia Ruskin, led the research amongst young people aged 10-19 and discovered that cyber-bullying was far more prevalent amongst girls.  Amongst the young people surveyed, 18.4% admitted to being a victim of cyber-bullying and 69% of those bullied were girls.

More girls than boys had also witnessed cyber-bullying, known somebody who had been cyber-bullied or known somebody who had cyber-bullied others.

Of those who said they had been affected by cyber-bullying the most common effects were on their confidence, self-esteem and mental and emotional well-being.  Over a quarter of those who had been cyber-bullied (28.8%) said that they had stayed away from school and over a third (38.9%) had stopped socialising outside school as a result of cyber-bullying.

Most young people thought cyber-bullying was just as harmful as other forms of bullying (74.4%).  Some thought it was far worse because this bullying is permanent in written or picture format, could get very personal and be transmitted to many more people more quickly.

It was also suggested that the secretive nature of cyber-bullying caused additional fear in the victim.  Also, because cyber-bullying can take place at any time and in any place, options for escape are limited.

Of those who had sought support to deal with cyber-bullying, most said that they had spoken to their parents/carers, while nearly half had approached a teacher or someone else in school.  Reasons for not seeking support included a fear of making the cyber-bullying worse and feeling that they were able to deal with the incident themselves.

Some key strategies used by young people to deal with cyber-bullying included; changing or blocking their instant messenger, email addresses and mobile numbers; and being careful who they gave their personal details to.  Only a small minority took action by reducing their use of social networking sites.

Steven Walker, who led the research which surveyed over 490 young people across the country, said:

“While most online interactions are neutral or positive the internet provides a new means through which children and young people are bullied.

“Some people who cyber-bully think that they won’t get caught if they do it on a mobile phone or on the internet. The people who cyber-bully are usually jealous, angry or want to have revenge on someone, often for no reason at all.

“Cyber-bullies often think that getting their group of friends to laugh at someone makes them look cool or more popular; some people also bully others as a form of entertainment or because they are bored and have too much time on their hands; many do it for laughs or just to get a reaction.

“Respondents frequently wrote about ‘messing with people’s heads’, causing ‘upset’, and even ‘depression’ deriving from the bullies’ actions.  One respondent told us that ‘bullying greatly contributed to my low self-esteem’.

“Many suggested that this form of bullying, like other forms, can ‘push people over the edge’ and lead to suicide attempts and also successful suicides.

“Many of the respondents in our study thought that cyber-bullies do not actually think they are bullying. In the main they thought that cyber-bullying was seen by bullies as merely a form of ‘harmless fun’, a joke and therefore not an issue.

“Others thought cyber-bullies are motivated by a lack of confidence and a desire for control, perhaps because they are too cowardly to bully face to face.

“As the use of social media amongst young people continues to grow, unless properly addressed by host sites and government agencies the problem of cyber-bullying is only likely to get worse.”