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The Internet age has brought with it the new form of social torture among kids, which is cyberbullying, and ever since the term was coined, there’s been increased attention to it from parents, media, school faculties, therapists and law enforcement. Researchers have also been studying the effects of cyberbullying, but there are fewer studies about the cyberbullying from the perspective of the bully. A newly published seven-year study examines this from an uncommon lens. Interestingly, it comes on the heels of a study that found it an unexpectedly common behavior for kids to cyberbully themselves now; plus, cyberbullying is being distinguished from general trolling, too.
Most people (71.5 percent) who report having been bullied do so in response to something that happened or repeatedly happens in person. At least a quarter of them concede having also been bullied online, but only 1.1 percent ever report being cyberbullied and not bullied in person. The seven-year study illustrates that most kids bully someone at some point in childhood and adolescence, and a lot of them stop as they mature; however, arguably just as many go on to become bullies for the rest of their lives. These are all reasons why it’s actually difficult to nail down the cause of bullying behaviors and nip them in the bud. Though it may be uncomfortable to say, there’s room to argue that bullying’s just human nature — that youth is a time during which social spheres become labs in which kids experiment with power dynamics.
The study says at least 50 percent of bullies have reportedly been bullied, and it’s those who have experienced both sides of this phenomenon that are at the most risk for mental health problems. Bullying is the most effective means of elevating peer acceptance to the overkill that is social dominance when it’s employed in tandem with pro-social behavior like sharing, assisting and any form of cooperation. These pro-social behaviors actually are the mechanism by which bullies eventually mature (in some cases) out of the need for obscenely high social statuses.
Parents have to be patient and concurrently curious about their child’s Internet behavior because the extreme ubiquity of digital technology today means that young people are on the Internet earlier and earlier. Parents need to position themselves in such a way that they have their child’s trust and are likely to be present when the unacceptable behavior starts. That way, they can appropriately reprimand their child in the moment. Children tend to justify their actions, so part of the parent’s job is to clarify that it is, indeed, wrong.
As quagmiry as this may seem, it gets only more so when considering the newer form of this phenomenon known as self-cyberbullying. An earlier study conducted by researchers from Florida Atlantic University explained that 6 percent of kids in middle and high school reportedly cyberbully themselves. “We knew we had to study this empirically, and I was stunned to discover that about 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online,” said Sameer Hinduja, the author of the study and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at FAU. The age range he specified runs from age 12 to age 17. “This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years.”
Much of this occurs on social media according to the study. Hinduja said self-cyberbullying first garnered attention back in 2013 after Hannah Smith, a 14-year-old girl in England, committed suicide after a series of harassing posts on social media. The police investigation that followed later found that Smith had written these posts herself. The study illustrates that digital self-harm, as it’s sometimes called now, is slightly more prevalent in boys than in girls. Boys conceded that they did so jokingly, yet girls reported doing it because they were suffering from depression to some degree.
Hinduja’s most concerned with the correlation between depression (and subsequent suicide) and general self-harm. The study shows that self-harming teens prove much more likely to manifest that self-harm on the Internet at some point before their self-loathing gets them to a point low enough for suicidal contemplation to come to fruition. The same was true of drug users. “Prior research has shown that self-harm and depression are linked to increased risk for suicide and so, like physical self-harm and depression, we need to closely look at the possibility that digital self-harm behaviors might precede suicide attempts,” Hinduja pointed out.
Hinduja added that people should “refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same. What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.” Truth be told, the lines that demarcate cyberbullying have already been blurring since before the emergence of self-cyberbullying because of the separate but sometimes inclusive phenomenon of trolling. All cyberbullying is trolling, but not all trolling is cyberbullying.
The second week of January saw a report of 63 percent increase in cyber-bullying complaints over the course of the last year for Courier Mail’s online publication. These trolls aren’t just roaming lions seeking whom they may devour, though it can seem as such; rather, experts from Cornell University and Stanford University concur that “ordinary people can, under the right circumstances, behave like trolls.” Trolling is essentially the act of making a joke out of everything that is said such that conversation might get tedious, but the jokes have to be aimed at someone. They don’t necessarily have to be derisive, but they usually end up turning into cyberbullying within minutes if there’s tête-à-tête.