Cyberbullying Research: 2013 Update
It’s been nearly three years since I posted a summary of the current state of cyberbullying research on this blog. That post was inspired by my concern that no researchers were included on a panel that testified to the Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities on the topic of how teens were using and misusing technology. I was troubled then, and remain concerned that quality research about cyberbullying has not been making it into mainstream discussions in the media, even though research in this area has flourished. I want to take a moment to update readers on what we know about cyberbullying based on our research – and that of others who have been exploring this problem.
Over the last decade, Sameer and I have surveyed nearly 15,000 middle and high school students in nine different studies from over 80 different schools throughout the United States. The first two studies were online exploratory samples used to obtain a general understanding of the problem, so the numbers obtained are higher than average and not representative because they only include online teens who volunteered to participate. Our seven most recent studies, however, have all been random samples of known populations in schools so we can be fairly confident in the reliability and validity of the data obtained (click here for more information about the methodology). Overall, about 24% of the students we have surveyed over the last seven studies have told us that they have been cyberbullied at some point in their lifetimes. About 8% said they were cyberbullied in the 30 days preceding the survey. Similarly, about 16% of those who we surveyed admitted that they had cyberbullied others at some point in their lifetimes (about 6% in the most recent 30 days).
Other Published Research
This past summer, Sameer and I (along with one of my undergraduate students) reviewed all of the published research we could find that included prevalence rates for cyberbullying. This work built on our earlier effort to quantitatively summarize published cyberbullying articles which we wrote about in our book Cyberbullying Prevention and Response: Expert Perspectives (see especially chapter 2). In total, we have now reviewed 73 articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals. Fifty-one of those included cyberbullying victimization rates and 42 included cyberbullying offending rates. As you can see from the charts below (click to enlarge), rates across all of the studies ranged widely, from 2.3% to 72% for victimization and from 1.2% to 44.1% for offending. The average across all of these studies was remarkably similar to the rates that we found in our work (about 21% of teens have been cyberbullied and about 15% admitted to cyberbullying others at some point in their lifetimes). Taken as a whole, it seems safe to conclude that about one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying, and about one out of every six teens has done it to others.
A couple of other broad generalizations can be made about cyberbullying, based on recent research:
- Adolescent girls are just as likely, if not more likely than boys to experience cyberbullying (as a victim and offender) (Floros et al., 2013; Kowalski et al., 2008; Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Schneider et al., 2012)
- Cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems (Brighi et al., 2012; Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; Kowalski & Limber, 2013; Patchin & Hinduja, 2010; Wang, Nansel, & Iannotti, 2011)
- Cyberbullying is related to other issues in the ‘real world’ including school problems, anti-social behavior, substance use, and delinquency (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008; Kowalski & Limber, 2013)
- Traditional bullying is still more common than cyberbullying (Lenhart, 2007; Smith et al., 2008; Wang, Nansel, & Iannotti, 2011)
- Traditional bullying and cyberbullying are closely related: those who are bullied at school are bullied online and those who bully at school bully online (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009; Kowalski & Limber, 2013; Ybarra, Diener-West, & Leaf, 2007).
There are only two studies that we are aware of that have explored cyberbullying experiences over time. The first analysis was conducted by our friends at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Examining the three waves of the Youth Internet Safety Survey (2000, 2005, 2010), they find a slight increase in cyberbullying behaviors over that time period (from 6% to 9% to 11%). The second data source is the School Crime Supplement of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). In 2011, 9% of students said they were cyberbullied compared to 6.2% in 2009. Since the NCVS data are weighted to represent the entire population of 12-18 year-olds enrolled in grades 6 through 12, we can estimate that about 2.2 million students experienced cyberbullying in 2011, up from about 1.5 million in 2009. Overall, even though we don’t have a lot of good research to go on, it seems reasonable to presume a slight increase in cyberbullying behaviors over the last few years.
I should acknowledge, however, that a recent poll from MTV and the AP released last month seemed to suggest a decrease in cyberbullying behaviors. I haven’t been able to examine the full methodology of that poll so it is difficult to know exactly what is going on, but I am suspicious since the numbers reported overall (49% cyberbullied in 2013 compared to 56% in 2011) are significantly higher than those in the peer-reviewed published literature that I summarized above.
Snapshot of Some Recent Data
We also just collected data (October, 2013) from about 400 students at one middle school (ages ranged from 11-14) in the Midwest. We haven’t had a chance to fully examine the results, but here are some quick stats:
- 97.5% have been online in the previous 30 days
- 63% have a cell phone
- 45% are on Facebook
- 42% are on Instagram
- 11.5% have been the target of cyberbullying in the previous 30 days (boys: 6.8%; girls: 16.0%)
- 3.9% have cyberbullied others in the previous 30 days (boys: 0.6%; girls: 6.9%)
Where Do We Go From Here
We have come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, but more research is still necessary. Public attention to the problem of cyberbullying is at an all-time high. As such, good research is necessary to contribute evidence-based insight into the nature of this problem and its possible solutions. Cyberbullying scholarship must continue to advance by improving methodological standards, including the use of validated measures, representative samples, and, where possible, longitudinal data. Supplementing quantitative findings with those from thoughtful and comprehensive qualitative inquiries will also help to better understand the precise nature of some of these relationships. With these considerations in mind, research will be better able to inform the public conversation about cyberbullying in a way that equips educators, parents, policy makers, and others with the information they need to make a positive difference in the lives of adolescents, online and offline.
Brighi, A., Melotti, G., Guarini, A., Genta, M. L., Ortega, R., Mora-Merchán, J., Smith, P. K. and Thompson, F. (2012). Self-Esteem and Loneliness in Relation to Cyberbullying in Three European Countries, in Cyberbullying in the Global Playground: Research from International Perspectives (eds Q. Li, D. Cross and P. K. Smith), Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford, UK.
Floros, G.D., Simos, K. E., Fisoun, V., Dafouli, E., and Geroukalis, D. (2013). Adolescent online cyberbullying in Greece: The impact of parental online security practices, bonding, and online impulsiveness. Journal of School Health, 83(6), 445-453.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2007). Offline consequences of online victimization: School violence and delinquency. Journal of School Violence, 6(3), 89-112.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2008). Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization. Deviant Behavior, 29(2), 129-156.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2009). Bullying beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3), 206-221.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2012). Cyberbullying: Neither an Epidemic Nor a Rarity. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 9(5), 539-543.
Kowalski, R. M. & Limber, S. P. (2013). Psychological, Physical, and Academic Correlates of Cyberbullying and Traditional Bullying. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), S13-S20.
Kowalski, R. M., Limber, S. P. & Agatston, P.W. (2008). Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.
Lenhart, A. (2007). Cyberbullying and Online Teens. Pew Internet & American Life Project, June
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2010). Cyberbullying and self-esteem. Journal of School Health, 80(12), 614-621.
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2013). Cyberbullying among Adolescents: Implications for Empirical Research. Journal of Adolescent Health 53(4), 431-432.
Schneider, S.K., O’Donnell, L, Stueve, A., and Coulter, R.W.S. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 102(1), 171-177.
Smith, P. K., Mahdavi, J., Carvalho, M., Fisher, S., Russell, S., and Tippett, N. (2008). Cyberbullying: its nature and impact in secondary school pupils. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 49(4): 376–385.
Wang, J., Nansel, T. R., & Iannotti, R. J. (2011). Cyber Bullying and Traditional Bullying: Differential Association with Depression. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(4): 415–417.
Ybarra, M., Diener-West, M., & Leaf, P. J. (2007). Examining the Overlap in Internet Harassment and School Bullying: Implications for School Intervention. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41: S42–S50.
Ybarra, M. L., Espelage, D. L., & Mitchell, K. J. (2007). The Co-occurrence of Internet Harassment and Unwanted Sexual Solicitation Victimization and Perpetration: Associations with Psychosocial Indicators, Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, S31-S41.
Cyberbullying Myths and Realities
Bullying has long been a concern of youth advocates (e.g., educators, counselors, researchers, policy makers). Recently, cyberbullying (bullying perpetrated through online technology) has dominated the headlines as a major current-day adolescent challenge. This article reviews available empirical research to examine the accuracy of commonly-perpetuated claims about cyberbullying. The analysis revealed several myths about the nature and extent of cyberbullying that are being fueled by media headlines and unsubstantiated public declarations. These myths include that (a) everyone knows what cyberbullying is; (b) cyberbullying is occurring at epidemic levels; (c) cyberbullying causes suicide; (d) cyberbullying occurs more often now than traditional bullying; (e) like traditional bullying, cyberbullying is a rite of passage; (f) cyberbullies are outcasts or just mean kids; and (g) to stop cyberbullying, just turn off your computer or cell phone. These assertions are clarified using data that are currently available so that adults who work with youth will have an accurate understanding of cyberbullying to better assist them in effective prevention and response. Implications for prevention efforts in education in light of these revelations are also discussed and include effective school policies, educating students and stakeholders, the role of peer helper programs, and responsive services (e.g., counseling).
Sabella, R. A., Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2013). Cyberbullying myths and realities. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(6), 2703-2711.
Cyberbullying Among Adolescents: Implications for Empirical Research
Research into the causes and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents has exploded in the past 5 years . However, much of the literature is largely descriptive in nature and/or suffers from methodological limitations associated with accessing and studying young people who are engaged in constantly changing high-tech behaviors. These challenges notwithstanding, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge detailing the social and psychological maladies linked to experiences with cyberbullying. Youth who experience cyberbullying, both as victims and as offenders, report lower self-esteem  and , higher depression and suicidal ideation ,  and , and increased school problems and participation in other problematic offline behaviors ,  and . It is also true that traditional bullying still occurs with more frequency than cyberbullying , although the gap could be narrowing .
Patchin, J. W. & Hinduja, S. (2013). Cyberbullying among Adolescents: Implications for Empirical Research. Journal of Adolescent Health 53(4), 431-432.
Does Bullying “Cause” Suicide?
The title of Deborah Temkin’s recent Huffington Post article is a simple request: “Stop saying bullying causes suicide.” Her plea is understandable and justified. Sameer and I also cringe when we read the ubiquitous headlines espousing the conventional wisdom proclaiming that “bullying causes suicide.” But what does the research actually say about the nature of this relationship?
Temkin rightly points to a handful of studies that have shown that there is some truth to the assertion that bullying plays a role in some suicides. But it is also true that most teens involved in bullying do not die by suicide. Most people who have spent some time exploring the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much more complicated than simply X causes Y. There are a number of known factors related to suicide that, combined with other situational or enduring life stressors (such as bullying), can predict risk. But even so, most people who experience these do not commit suicide.
I think it is just as important to remember that, as inappropriate as it is to assert that “bullying causes suicide,” it is perhaps equally incorrect to say that “bullying does not cause suicide.” The frank truth is that we really don’t know. I’m not aware of any research that has tested the “bullying causes suicide” hypothesis that has returned null findings. Most research that I am aware of, including the few samples where we include questions about suicidal ideology and attempts, shows a significant, though admittedly modest relationship in the expected direction (namely, that experience with bullying is a factor in suicide). Not the opposite. Of course there are other variables, like the risk factors noted above, that play an important role.
One realization I have come to over the last several months and years is that it is not helpful to tell a grieving family that bullying was not the cause of their child’s death, when in their hearts they know it to be. I am not going to stand in front of them and tell them that they are wrong. Here’s what we do know: most young people who are bullied do not resort to suicide. Some do. Whether it’s causal or correlational or part of a whole constellation of co-occurring challenges in the lives of certain youths, how does that really change what we all are trying to do? We seek to inform the problem of teen suicide with data, and the empirical and anecdotal data that do exist (however limited) lends more credibility to a relationship than not. Please don’t misread this as defending the media for often misrepresenting the nature of the problem, but we shouldn’t overplay our hand either.
So I would offer an addendum to Temkin’s HuffPost appeal. Yes, people should “Stop saying bullying causes suicide.” But we also shouldn’t say that it doesn’t. The honest answer is that we really don’t know a whole lot about why some teens who are bullied consider suicide whereas the vast majority do not. As in many cases we write about on this blog, more research is necessary.
By the way, if you or a friend is contemplating suicide, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK.
School Climate 2.0: Reviews and Response
Since our book School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time was published last year, the response has been amazing. Many educators have come up to us at events around the country to tell us how much they really appreciate the research-based information and strategies that they can put to use in their classrooms. Others who know a thing or two about teaching and technology have also chimed in with their opinions.
For example, Kevin Jennings, the former Assistant Deputy Secretary of Education said “this book is filled with useful information and practical tips for those who seek to create positive school climates where bullying of all kinds is minimized.” Joe Sullivan, the Chief Security Officer of Facebook said: “this practical guide provides important information, backed up by careful research, about the ways that adults can help build constructive dialogues and relationships with students.” Jonathan Cohen from the National School Climate Center called it a “wise and practically helpful book.” You can read more thoughtful reviews here. The book has also been reviewed 21 times on Amazon.com and all but one reviewer gave it 5 stars. So, suffice it to say that the weight of the public opinion on the book has been wonderfully positive.
All of this not-so-shameless self-promotion sets the stage for an email Sameer and I received last week that our book had been recently reviewed as it was being evaluated for an award. Here is the entire, unedited review:
“This book should be required reading for any educator currently facing today’s youth in classrooms. Easy to read, practical information and suggestions abound throughout. I do not feel the authors clearly indicate how school officials and administrators might influence or mitigate out-of-school, off-site social media bullying, other than showing repeatedly that what happens online after school very much affects school climate the next day. This really is the crux of the problem not only for schools, but with this book. Five out of the eight chapters focus on an out-of-school online climate that is most often also out-of-reach legally for school administrators. However, the authors do an excellent job of discussing the unintended consequences of the necessities and practicalities of BYOD, and offer many ideas to try (example: Delete Day). There are many lists of questions for administrators to ask themselves and students about school climate. The chapter summaries are actually a great learning tool, as they nicely recap the entire chapter. Throughout, the authors maintain a very positive approach.”
Even though the review starts out great and notes several positive aspects of the book, I found myself focusing in on the two criticisms, or really misunderstandings, that were expressed by the reviewer. And because we have this great venue with which to connect with you, our loyal followers, I thought I would take a minute to respond to these concerns.
The first issue raised by the reviewer was that the book did not “clearly indicate how school officials and administrators might influence or mitigate out-of-school, off-site social media bullying…” I feel that the book makes a very compelling argument, starting right in Chapter 1 that the strength of the student/teacher relationship vis-à-vis a positive climate at the school was one such way to have a great influence: “by developing strong relationships between the school and students, among students themselves, and between the school and their families, this principle can be used to dissuade negative behaviors and encourage positive behaviors even when adults aren’t around—such as when teens are online” (p. 11). In fact, this is the entire thesis of the book! The whole point of the book is that educators who work to foster a positive climate at school *can* influence the behavioral choices of students, even when they are away from school. This perspective is revisited throughout the book and in Chapter 6 in particular when we discuss numerous specific strategies for improving the climate with the broader goal of “mitigating” the “off-site” problematic behaviors.
The second criticism that jumped out at me was the suggestion that much of the content of the book “…focus[es] on an out-of-school online climate that is most often also out-of-reach legally for school administrators.” Chapter 9 addresses this misunderstanding head on, as illustrated by this specific subheading: “Can Schools Respond to Behaviors That Occur Away From Campus” (p. 164). The short answer is, of course, yes, they can! And that chapter spells out the legal, policy, and ethical arguments for that response. The bottom line is that educators *can* respond to any behaviors, even those that occur far away from the school, if the behaviors result in, or have a articulable and imminent likelihood of resulting in, a substantial disruption of the learning environment at school (see also this blog post). We believe that most cyberbullying incidents can rise to this level but that educators need to respond appropriately and reasonably.
This reviewer apparently didn’t read our book very carefully. Perhaps the evidence for this conclusion lies within the content of the review itself. Exhibit A is this statement: “Five out of the eight chapters focus on…” The book actually contains 9 chapters. Exhibit B is this: “The chapter summaries are actually a great learning tool, as they nicely recap the entire chapter.” Could it be that the reviewer simply read the summaries and not the full contents of each chapter? Whatever the cause for the confusion, we are always happy to address questions and concerns raised in our writing. The value for us in this blog is in our ability to connect more directly with you so that we can discuss these issues in a way that is more enlightening to all. We learn something new from our online friends every day, whether it comes in the form of a comment on the blog, an email, or a social media mention. And we try to pass along new insights or explanations of our various materials. So don’t hesitate to contact us! Whether it is for the purpose of complementing, criticizing, or clarification, we are here to listen, learn, and pass along important updates. We are all in this together!