Since October is National Bullying Prevention month, I decided to interview Health Studies' Dr. Katie Crosslin and get her input on this social problem. Dr. Crosslin focuses her research on an aspect of bullying that is becoming more and more prevalent - cyberbullying.
“My boyfriend’s ex-wife relentlessly texts me 15 times per day, leaves multiple voice messages on my phone, and has even stalked me at college.”
Cyberbullying is becoming a significant issue with how we increasingly utilize technology to communicate. The above scenario is a real-life example of what can happen when people use technology to harass, inflict harm, and stalk others. There are several reasons why bullying may occur via digital means, whether it be to intimidate, gang up on others, or even for a good laugh. While some cyberbullies may be unaware of the damage they inflict on their victims, research suggests that these actions can be intentional, too.
The word “cyberbullying” implies that unwanted harassment occurs via the Internet; however, it is difficult to define cyberbullying with the plethora of communication methods. Not only do we use the Internet along with several social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), but other forms of digital communications are also utilized such as email, text, and instant messaging. Research is currently underway to better understand and define cyberbullying, although an accepted definition is referred to as “being cruel to others by sending or posting harmful material or engaging in other forms of social aggression using the Internet or other digital technologies” (1).
What are the potential issues that can arise with students who are bullied? What about the students who do the bullying – are there potential health risks for them?
“I was very angry and it made me re-evaluate all the people I had met at school. I thought I was close to everyone, but I withdrew and made very few friends.”
Several research studies have been conducted among K-12 students to understand the psychological effects from cyberbullying. The fact that some attacks are anonymous can leave a victim feeling fearful and anxious about who might be behind the attack. Victims also have reported feeling anger, sadness, depression, and thoughts of suicide (2). In some circumstances, individuals have taken their own lives due to online harassment. Only about 10% of children tell their parents or another adult about being cyberbullied (3). It can be very difficult for a young person to handle this type of harassment, and parents are recommended to monitor their children’s online/digital communications.
Bullies themselves also face consequences. Alarmingly, over half of bullies in middle school have a criminal conviction by their early 20’s. In regards to suicide, bullies are at an even higher risk for suicide attempts than victims (4). More research is needed to understand how cyberbullies are affected in the long-term and ways to intervene to reduce future criminal offenses.
Although the majority of research has been directed toward young children, cyberbullying is a problem for adults and can even occur in the workplace. I currently conduct research to learn how college students are affected and have seen that there are many psychological ramifications. For instance one victim reported the following: “I didn't see the point in living this way. When it got really bad, I didn't see the point of living at all. I felt trapped, because I was surrounded by these girls, who wrote hate messages on Facebook and prank called me once a week. I felt very helpless and that no one really cared.” There are many other situations that are similar to this one in which the victim is emotionally tormented by others usually due to a relational conflict or recent break-up (5).
What are some of the warning signs that individuals should be aware of that could alert them to the possibility of cyberbullying going on in someone’s life? Or, maybe some warning signs that bullying is becoming a critical issue that needs immediate intervention?
“Emotionally I was scared. I was threatened and always afraid to look at the computer or phone.”
What can people do if they are concerned about particular cyberbullying incidents?
“I was very angry for a while, but I rose above it. Once they realized I wasn't going to retaliate, it seems that they stopped.”
Victims of cyberbullying tend to spend more time on the Internet than non-victims. People who utilize social media sites should pay attention to their privacy settings to ensure that only trusted friends see their information online. Remember that what you say online stays forever, so don’t write anything that you will regret later on. Young people should keep track of any cyberbullying incidences to show an adult (i.e., parent or teacher) in the event that it worsens or you need law enforcement to intervene. If you are ever a witness to cyberbullying, you have the opportunity to do something to help the victim.
Health educators are trained to work with communities to reduce or eliminate health problems through the processes of assessment, program planning, implementation, and evaluation. Violence prevention, which includes cyberbullying, is an important area to include when designing programs within schools and communities and is the key to raise awareness at the societal level.
1. Willard N. Cyberbullying legislation and school policies. Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet Web site. Retrieved online July 1, 2012, from ttp://csriu.org/cyberbully/docs/cblegislation.pdf.
2. Hoff D, Mitchell S. (2009). Cyberbullying: Causes, effects, and remedies. Journal of Educational Administration, 47(5), p. 652-665.
3. Bullying statistics. (n.d.). Cyberbulling statistics. Retrieved online March 24, 2011, from
4. Bostic, J.Q., & Brunt, C.C. (2011). Cornered: An approach to school bullying, cyberbullying, and forensic implications. Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 20, p. 447-465.
5. Crosslin, K.L., & Crosslin, M.B. (2012). College students and victimization experiences. Unpublished raw data.
6. Hinduja, S.H., & Patchin, J.W. (2009). Safe and responsible social networking. Retrieved on October 21, 2012, from http://www.cyberbullying.us/safe_responsible_social_networking.pdf
Dr. Katie Crosslin is an Assistant Professor for Texas Woman's University's Department of Health Studies. Her research interests include violence prevention, acculturation in Hispanics and effects on health, medically underserved populations, and chronic diseases and quality of life.