More and more children are becoming victims of cyberbullying with an estimated range of between 19% and 42% being bullied online at least one time (Wolak, Mitchell & Finkelhor, 2006). Reports also indicate that children who participated in traditional bullying are becoming increasingly more involved in cyberbullying; reflecting very high percentages of those children acting as cyber bullies (Kowalski & Limber, 2007).
In a recent study of 177 seventh grade students, studies revealed that an estimated 54% were victims of traditional bullying and 17% were bullied online (Li, 2007). Of those 31% who acknowledged participating in traditional bullying, 30% had also bullied someone online and another 27% were victims of online bullying (Li, 2007). Research has also reflected that children who are victims of traditional or cyberbullying are more likely to retaliate virtually than in person (Willard, 2007).
Which is more harmful?
Twyman, Conway, Taylor & Comeaux (2010) posit that there are minimal differences between traditional and cyberbullying that would make cyberbullying a more serious issue (p. 196). Willard in his 2007 article "Cyberbullying and cyber-threats: responding to the challenge of online social aggression, threats, and distress" indicates that because cyberbullying can occur at any time, day or night, victims feel trapped and unable to get away from his or her victimizers. When bullying took place primarily on the school grounds, when school was over, on the weekends, holidays and summer breaks, victims had some respite from their victimization. With cyberbullying, victims may be harassed every time they go on the internet or answer their cellular phone. There is no safe haven as with traditional bullying.
Although neither is preferred, with traditional bullying the victims' exposure to bystanders and others who may bear witness to their victimization, was primarily limited to the event, that particular school or a given neighborhood. If reports of the bullying travelled outside of those particular conditions, it would take a relatively long period of time to get from person to person. However, with cyberbullying, messages and pictures can be disseminated on a much larger scale faster, increasing the numbers of bystanders and witnesses to the victimization (Willard, 2007). Anonymity is another factor in cyberbullying that is decidedly different from traditional forms of bullying. Often, being anonymous facilitates reduced accountability by the aggressor which may encourage more intense levels of inappropriate behavior online (Li, 2007). Many individuals engage in cyberbullying because the find it entertaining, with less likelihood of consequences or repercussions; not realizing the sometimes severe negative impact it has on the victims (Smith, Mahdavi, Carvalho et al., 2001).
Many studies have examined the characteristics of those children who have been exposed to cyberbullying. Both cyberbullies and victims of cyberbullying are reported to be very intense users of social media forums and the internet, averaging more than 4 days per week and who rate themselves as expert in their online abilities, consider the internet to be very important, and report rare or infrequent parental monitoring, while those that are victim only spend less time online and are decidedly less confident (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004).
Cyberbullying effects are very similar to that of traditional bullying, including lower or decreased academic performance, increased stress levels, low self-esteem, depression and changes in interests (National Crime Prevention Council, 2007). Preliminary research has suggested the reported effects of cyberbullying may be comparable or even worse than the effects identified with traditional bullying (Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004). As such, there is an ever increasing need to identify individual s that may be potentially vulnerable to victimization by cyberbullies and to identify potential risk to cyberbullying. Moreover, protective factors for cyberbullying must also be identified and must be capable of keeping up with technological advances (Twyman, Conway, Taylor & Comeaux, 2010).
There has been increasing debate as to whether those who are perpetrators of cyberbullying should be held accountable or responsible for the negative and derogatory messages that are left online. There are those that argue on both sides of this issue. The reality, unfortunately, is because of the level of anonymity often used in cyberbullying, as well as the lack of ability to adequately track and explicitly determine the source and recipient of the information via technology holding someone accountable can prove extremely difficult. However, this is not to suggest that law enforcement, policy makers and other community stakeholders should not continue to pursue every possible avenue in order to confront those who bully online just as they would an individual who participated as an aggressor in more traditional forms of bullying (NCPC, 2007). The legal or responsibility system has to play catch up with the high tech tools cyberbullies use to extort their acts of aggression on victims.
Long-Term Consequences of Bullying
Teen bullying, specifically, is regarded as a warning sign that those particularly involved as perpetrators may be heading for increased troubles and greater risk for violence in later life. Boys, particularly, who bully are more likely to engage in other delinquent and antisocial behaviors such as drug use, truancy, vandalism, and shoplifting to name a few. These individuals are four times as likely as their non-bullying peer cohorts to be convicted of serious crimes by the age of 24, with 60% of those bullying having at least one criminal conviction (Swearer, Song, Cary, Eagle & Mickelson, 2001).
Empirical research indicates that bullying can have long lasting negative effects on children; however, careful implementation of school programs can substantially reduce the incidents of bullying (Swearer et al., 2001; Rigby & Slee, 1999; Olweus, 1994). A recent study of 2,300 middle school children found that students who had been victimized had significantly lower grade point averages (lower than expected for their previously demonstrated skills and abilities) than non-victimized students (Goodwin, 2011). Researchers conclude that 'peer victimization cannot be ignored when trying to improve educational outcomes" (Goodwin 2011, p. 1).
The acts of bullying tend to leave an indelible impression on those who are victimized. Whether the effects manifest as an altered self-concept, psychosomatic symptoms, addictive behavior, health problems or psychologically traumatic consequences victims of bullying are significantly affected (Houbre, Tarquinio, Thullier, & Hergott, 2006). With regard to self-concept, questions have been raised as to how identity might be related to a child's status or role in the bullying process. Victims of bullying see themselves, invariably, as socially 'incompetent' and are most often unpopular among their peers, unstable, anxiety ridden, and display minimal self-confidence (Khatri, Kupersmidt & Patterson, 2000).
Concerning health, most of the scholarly literature has focused on the health implications for victims. A number of studies have found a causal link between victimization and psychosomatic effects of the aggressiveness of bullying on students' health (Forero, McLellan, Rissel, & Bauman, 1999). Particularly, victims were found to be suffering from bedwetting, headaches, sleep disorders, feelings of unhappiness, and stomachaches to name a few (Williams, Chambers, Logan & Robinson, 1996). Naturally, symptoms vary according to the victim's gender. Boys' symptomology manifested more in backaches and headaches, whereas girls expressed symptoms of sleep disorders and nervousness. Moreover, the greater the exposure to bullying the more and varied symptoms victims reported experiencing. The level of social support the children received also was a mitigating factor in symptomology (Houbre, Tarquinio, Thullier & Hogett, 2006). In addition, the number of symptoms experienced by the victims was contingent upon the level of distress. When less support was provided, symptomology increased (Natvig, Albreksten & Qvarnstrom, 2001).
Physical manifestations are not the only long-term effects evidenced in children who have been victims of bullying behavior. Depression, anxiety, isolation, loneliness, as well as fear of going to school, have been demonstrated as behavioral and emotional disorders in children who have been bullied (Boulton & Underwood, 1992).
Given the aforementioned information, for many scholars and health professionals, victimization is seen as a precursor to mental health disorders; although some note that these same disorders can be the cause and not the consequence of bullying (Hodges & Perry, 1999), which results in a two directional link. Bullies, themselves, can be seen as anxious and dominating (Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, Berts & King, 1982). Although many bullies are popular, they are often rejected by their peers (Boulton & Underwood, 1992). Bully/victims differ from those that are solely victims or solely bullies in their personality. They reportedly often obtain elevated scores on psychotic and neurotic scales, are at the bottom of the social acceptance ranking (Pagerspetz et al., 1982; Hodges & Perry, 1999), and face rejection on a variety of levels. Those who are both bully and victim or are predominantly bullies are subject to hyperactivity and manifested externalized behaviors such as the need to should, inability to sit still and extraversion. Contrastingly, victims' exhibit more internalized behaviors such as introversion and withdrawal (Natvig, Albreksten & Qvarnstrom, 2001).
Addictive behavior has also been associated with bullying. Research in this area is limited, although the studies that are available on the issues of substance abuse and the causal link…