Cybervictims miss more school and have poor performance, relationship problems, and inadequate social skills. Insomnia, somatic complaints, strained relationships with loved ones, and social anxiety are often correlated with cybervictimization. Decreased empathy and greater aggression in their relationships with others may be seen. Not surprisingly, those that are traditional victims are also more likely to be cybervictims (Suzuki ibid).
Bully-victims often have poor empathy (Suzuki ibid). Additionally, people who are found to have elevated reactive aggression tend toward retaliation, thereby taking the trauma of victimization and perpetrating acts upon their bully or even others. Bully-victims also usually have more experience with traditional bullying and victimization, poor emotional relations with parents, and often associate with peers of poor moral character.
As with other forms of bullying, cyberbullying produces an array of consequences, including suicide and, conceivably, homicide. Research indicates that the effects of cyberbullying manifest in many ways. Its victims may feel worry and sense of threat (65%), emotional distress (38%), and indifference (22%) (Suzuki ibid). Cybervictims are at two to three times the risk compared to their peers for problems such as depression and substance abuse. More frequently they also demonstrate delinquent behavior such as increased rates of suspension, detention, and likelihood of carrying weapons. Cybervictims are also twice as likely to attempt suicide. There has also been found to be a direct association between the act of cyberbullying and suicide attempts in males (Bauman op cit).
Prevention and Interventions
Cyberbullying is a real threat to our patients, particularly those in middle school and high school. Poor school performance, difficult relationships, maladaptive behavior, and depressed mood may all be closely associated with exposure to cyberbullying. Since youth tend not to divulge involvement with cyberbullying to adults, catching this through screening and close evaluation may be even more crucial than with traditional bullying. Once patients are patients are identified as cyberbullies and/or cybervictims, mood and risk for depression should be vigilantly monitored in these patients, as should risk of suicidality. Skills deficits should be identified and addressed. For example, cyberbullies could be educated on relational problem solving, anger management, and the impact of their acts, in an effort to induce greater empathy. Education for cybervictims might include social skills, improving comfort in social settings, and increasing assertiveness. Training in cooperation and compromise, comfort in seeking help, and basic skills like problem solving and making decisions could prove to be very beneficial as well (Suzuki op cit; Kiriakidis op cit). Therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy may prove very effective in receptive individuals.
Once individuals are identified as being involved in some capacity with cyberbullying, further exploration is necessary. A thorough evaluation should include questions such as:
• When, how often, and through which means does the cyberbullying occur?
• What are the contents of the attacks, and what is the extent of public exposure?
• Did the individual know the perpetrator?
• How did the victim respond to the attacks and with whom did they share?
Given its strong association, questioning about traditional bullying is highly pertinent as well.
To further help an individual identified as a cyberbully or cybervictim beyond the clinical setting, communication with schools and parents is needed to provide greater awareness and support for the child. Many youth see adults as either indifferent or incapable of addressing this novel problem, driving them to either keep silent or only share with friends (Suzuki op cit; Hinduja S & Patchin J, J Youth Adolesc 2013;January 2013 online). Creating a sense that adults are knowledgeable and capable of addressing cyberbullying is needed. This must be backed by hard evidence that adults are part of the solution. Public workshops, school-led events, and government announcements can create understanding of the technology involved, indicate how to identify cyberbullying and victimization, and suggest means to respond to such events.
Changing attitudes toward cyberbullying and perceived social norms is paramount. cyberbullies often believe that attitudes toward their acts are either neutral or positive and that their behavior is acceptable and common (see for example Hinduja & Patchin op cit). By addressing these and other misperceptions, acts may be averted. The opinion of others is critically important to cyberbullies’ self-esteem and worth. Peers, teachers, and parents all impact the individual’s perception of right and wrong. Social pressure by those who provide significant influence upon individuals has the best potential to effect change.
Cyberbullies may believe that they can carry out their acts without consequence and with pure anonymity. But most actions through technology leave a trace, and dispelling the myth of anonymity will create a better sense of accountability. Sanctions at school have been shown effective in reducing cyberbullying (Hinduja & Patchin op cit), so these along with other means of reprimand should be identified and clearly announced. Cyberbullies need to recognize that their actions may warrant investigation and punishment ranging from interventions at school to prosecution under laws such as the Protection from Harassment Act of 1997 (Kiriakidis op cit). Since people who cyberbully often do not appreciate the ramifications that their behavior has upon their victims, helping expose the consequences may deter some events.