This essay will focus on cyberbullying and its effects on the mental wellbeing of students. Its intention is to examine the impact that cyberbullying has on children and young adults and argues that more research is needed in the UK to differentiate between traditional forms of bullying and cyberbullying. As it stands the UK groups together all forms of bullying under this header, and it is important to distinguish between all differing forms of bullying, whether this is physical, mental or cyberbullying to name but a few. However, the UK government has recently acknowledged that cyberbullying is a constant threat to an individual’s wellbeing and it has passed a white paper through parliament which will make large social media corporations accountable for threatening, abusive and hurtful content sent via their applications. A white paper is produced by the government and is a policy document that sets out future legislation that they want passed through parliament.
This essay will draw on studies and evidence from varying sources and countries. It acknowledges and outlines the limited research and lack of concise studies conducted in the UK and draws attention that the primary focus of academic research within the UK has fixated solely on bullying in a general sense. Whereas countries like Australia, Canada and the USA have realised that cyberbullying is becoming a rapidly increasing problem in modern developing western societies. It will begin by, firstly, defining what is the meaning of bullying, leading onto a definition of cyberbullying and how it has similarities, but ultimately has many differences from bullying and its arguably outdated classification. Secondly, it will examine academic literature and research into cyberbullying, which is gathered from multiple sources to investigate, analyse and evaluate the impact that cyberbullying can have on a child and a young adult. It will focus on an increasing number of children and young adults developing mental illness’, such as depression and anxiety, eating disorders, leading onto arguably the greatest impact on an individual’s mental wellbeing, suicidal thoughts and suicide itself. As this essay focuses on the impact on mental wellbeing, suicide, it could be argued, is the ultimate act of how cyberbullying has impacted on that individual’s life and the devastating journey that they have had to endure to finally take the decision to end their life. Thirdly, the essay will address UK based statistics and show how cyberbullying impacts on the mental health of the individual. It will focus on these statistics, government lead initiatives and advertising campaigns, to examine the important areas that the UK government have addressed. Including, the extent that online bullying impacts the wellbeing of children and young adults within the UK. It will then go on to conclude, that it is a constellation of factors that influence the feelings of individuals who have been the victims of cyberbullying. More in-depth studies, research, education and government intervention is required to fully understand the impact of cyberbullying on children and young adults which effects their mental wellbeing.
Bullying in its traditionally recognised form can be viewed as any negative behaviour, activity or act of aggression that has the intention to affect the daily life, or victimise another group or individual, who is perceived by their peers, and possibly, the society in which they live, as being less physically or psychologically able than the perpetrator (Glew et al. 2005 p.1026). Prominent Australian psychologist and anti-bullying researcher Ken Rigby states that ‘…bullying can be viewed along a continuum of seriousness, with most bullying acts being of low severity, as in occasional unpleasant teasing, and some much less commonly perpetrated of extreme severity, as in continual physical assaults and/or total exclusion from others over an extended period’ (Rigby, 2001 p.288). However, the UK government do not currently have a clear definition of what bullying is. It can be viewed as behaviour that is intended to inflict harm on another group or individual. Bullying can target many aspects, examples could be a person’s looks, race or disability. It is repeated behaviour that can take many forms including physical, mental and social abuse (Gov.uk, 2018).
It appears that cyberbullying (according to UK policy) falls within these parameters because of the similarities that the outcomes between online bullying and traditional forms of bullying are comparable. For example, becoming withdrawn from society (including but not exclusively family and friends), truanting from school, not eating (with the potential of developing an eating disorder) and depression (Morales, 2011). This in turn clouds the definition of cyberbullying and could possibly be the reason the UK government does not have a clear-cut definition of bullying. So, it groups all bullying acts (including cyberbullying) into the same category. It also appears that academic researchers do not agree on a clear and clinical definition of what cyberbullying is. However, in a research paper, Robin Kowalski and Susan Limber (2013), have addressed this and have come up with a clear, clinical and straightforward explanation of what cyberbullying is. They state that ‘Cyberbullying involves bullying through the use of electronic venues, such as instant messaging, e-mail, chat rooms, websites, online games, social networking sites, and text messaging’ (Kowalski & Limber 2013 p. 13). It can also allow the perpetrator anonymity from the victim which differs greatly from traditional bullying. This essay will use this as its primary definition of cyberbullying, although it acknowledges that many other definitions are used within this area of research.
Cyberbullying with its similarities to the more traditional form of bullying is a cause for concern for researchers, as many cyberbullying attacks are misrepresented under bullying statistics. One method that academics have homed in on is the potential for a child or young adult to be victimised at any time of the day, and across multiple technological formats. ‘In recent years, most youths have been drawn to social media (such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter) and video-sharing sites (such as YouTube). This trend has led to increased reports of cyberbullying occurring in those environments’ (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p. 2). A case study outlined by Kowalski, Limber and Agatston (2008) have focused on an article by Crisp (2006), who looked at a case involving a 16-year-old who became a ‘prisoner in her own home’ and contemplated suicide after cyberbullying attacks received from others at her school. The extent of the abuse was multi-facetted with the use of mobile phones (late night calls and texts), internet chat room abuse, which contained threats, intimidating behaviour and being ostracized from her peer group (Kowalski, Limber & Agatston, 2008, p. 12).
A Canadian study by Bonanno and Hymel (2013) used self-report questionnaires to look at the association of cyberbullying and if it has a link with depression and suicidal thoughts, of both the cyberbully victim and the bully themselves. They found that negative behavioural traits, such as, withdrawal from society, fearfulness and somatic complaints caused both cyberbully victim and bully severe emotional distress. From their sample they state that there is a link between cyberbullying and its negative impact upon the teens within their study, and they formed a predictor for depressive and suicidal thoughts (within their research sample). As Bonanno and Hymel highlight, the impact on mental wellbeing of the teens within their sample group, they conclude that the problems that they have encountered should not be addressed in the same way as traditional forms of bullying. They argue that cyberbullying should be treated in its own right and not just treated as an extension of what is perceived as traditional bullying (Bonanno & Hymel, 2013 p.685-695). Through research, education and implementing new policies, Bonanno and Hymel argue that the effects of cyberbullying on the mental wellbeing of children and young adults could be reduced. However, if society allows it, ‘cyberbullying has the potential to escalate exponentially’ (Bonanno & Hymel, 2013 p.695). The potential to be a victim of cyberbullying is a 24 hour a day problem, with no escape from the bully; an individual has the potential to be bullied online from anywhere around the world and it is not just a localised problem anymore (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014, p.4).
Although within their research Bonanno and Hymel have addressed the impact that cyberbullying can have on a child’s mental wellbeing, the sample size that is used was very small. Only 399 participants made up of 57% females were used. Although the study gives insight into what this essay is looking into, the results cannot be generalised to the wider population because of the limited number of participants. Also, the study has a mean age of participant of 14.7 years (Bonanno & Hymel, 2013, p.685), but it fails to state the actual age range they were using, so in using this data it must be taken on trust that the participants fall within the children and young adult (11-16-year-olds) part of this extended project essay question. If this research was to be conducted again, it could potentially look for possible links between gender bias towards the mental wellbeing of its participants, as well as making the sample size much larger and fully disclosing the background of the participants that have taken part, as to enable it to be generalised to the larger population.
Leading on from this Nikolaou (2017) looked at suicidal behaviours of students in the United States, and although the research is made up from secondary sources, Nikolaou affirms Bonanno and Hymels research that cyberbullying has a strong impact on suicidal behaviour amongst children and young adults. He argues that his interpretation of the Youth Risk Behavioural Survey there is a positive causal link between cyberbullying on non-fatal and fatal suicidal behaviours. The sample that Nikolaou studied was focussed on children around 11-13 years-old, however some of the evidence that is used to support the findings are from an older undisclosed age group. The study does however address the notion of a gender bias towards the impact of cyberbullying on males and females, with men more likely to commit fatal suicide. He states that females have a lower fatality rate because they choose methods that are potentially less likely to lead to a fatality, for example, an overdose with pills. Nikolaou takes the argument further by stating that groups that are deemed a high risk of victimisation; obese, disabled, self-negative perceptions of their own physical appearance and mental health issues (including depression and anxiety); are more likely to attempt both fatal and non-fatal suicides. The author argues that there is a link between lower health capital and an increased risk of suicide (Nikolaou, 2017, p.30-42). The potential for further investigation in this area could in theory show a stronger link between the impact of cyberbullying and the mental well-being of children from more at-risk groups.
Nikolaou’s journal article has gathered its data from a large survey that was funded in part by the US government. As it is produced using statistics from a secondary source, the researcher, Dimitrios Nikolaou, could have manipulated the figures to fit his hypothesis to answer the question that he originally set out to answer. The Youth Risk Behavioural survey is produced to highlight the problem of bullying in children and young adults and to show that more education is needed to reduce the risk for the impact on students. As stated in the article, there is a decrease in cyberbullying rates in states that have implemented government policy laws to address the impact of cyberbullying, but it doesn’t show the picture in its entirety because these laws are not implemented nationwide. Also, as this is a funded survey used by the US Government there is a possibility that the figures could be skewed to show what the government wants the population to see. The author does acknowledge this and gives a general conclusion to his journal article by arguing that the cyberbullying laws in the USA have had an impact on limiting the effects of cyberbullying by increasing the investment into prevention strategies for cyberbullying and this ‘can improve individual health by decreasing suicide attempts, and increase the aggregate health stock by decreasing suicide rates’ (Nikolaou, 2017, p.30). As stated earlier in this essay the UK Government are becoming more aware of the impact of cyberbullying and have produced a white paper which will make large social media corporations accountable for threatening, abusive and hurtful content sent via their applications. This can be seen as the first steps to show the UK government are attempting to implement policies that have already been successfully introduced in the USA.
The idea of educating children and young adults about the impact of cyberbullying on the impact of their mental well-being, because of the frequency of being online and on apps in modern society should start at home. Hood and Duffy (2017) in their study conducted in Australia, found that it would be advisable to educate adolescents on the damage that cyberbullying can do, and educate parents on the monitoring of their children’s internet/social media behaviours. With greater parental monitoring they argue that it could reduce the time adolescents spend online which can be associated with a lower cyberbullying rate. They state that the positive cyber victimisation-bullying relationship is weakened as parental monitoring increased. Within the research article they look at a link between cyberbullying and cyber victimisation, and they found that individuals who have been cyberbullied have a strong link to becoming a cyberbully themselves (Hood & Duffy, 2017, p.103).
This notion of cyberbully-victim is backed-up by the largest anti-bullying survey in the UK produced by Ditch the Label. They find that the mental turmoil that a bullying victim goes through, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and attempts, were just as prevalent for the bully (Ditch the Label, 2018, p.17). According to Ditch the Label cyberbullying is on the rise in the UK and from the studies that have been looked at within this essay, it would appear to be a worldwide problem. The availability of modern technology, allowing children and young adults to freely access the internet, and the potential to become a bully with relative anonymity, the impact on younger children needs to be addressed; with 30% of children in the UK having been a witness to cyberbullying (Ditch the Label, 2018, p.28). The UK government have recently produced a television advertisement campaign to try and educate the younger generations on impact their online comments, texts, app use etc has on an individual’s mental well-being. The ‘sticks and stones’ campaign (2018) shows a young child receiving constant text messages to his smart phone and he keeps reiterating that words can never hurt him; however, you can physically see how emotional he is becoming and the mental distress it is causing. As this is a relatively new campaign the results on whether it has been deemed a success are not available yet. It does however show that cyberbullying and its impact have governments worried about its power over the younger generations and are taking steps to address the problem.
The impact of bullying and perhaps more so cyberbullying can be hard to measure, firstly the impact that it has on a person is a very individual experience, and what some may play down as being a joke or gentle teasing could affect others differently, potentially manifesting in depression, anxiety, feelings of social isolation or in worse case scenarios suicide to name but a few. It can also play an adverse effect on a child or young adults’ education, for example lower than expected grades or higher levels of truancy from school. Drawing on the work of Bhat (2008), Campbell (2005), Slone & Smith (2008), Schenk & Fremouw (2011) argue that the ‘impact on cyberbully victims is substantial and negative. Some factors that can escalate the severity of the impact are the increased difficulty to escape the cyberbullying, as well as the countless bystanders that can view this private information due to the ease of electronic transmission’ (Schenk & Fremouw, 2011. P.26). Secondly, the way of gathering information is also subjective. It is usually collated using questionnaires and surveys sent out to groups of people that the researchers may feel will give them the best answers to potentially support their questions and hypothesis. Case studies and participant interviews can also be used, and although this can give a more in-depth insight into a particular situation, in most circumstances it cannot be generalised to the wider population.
This gathering of data has created much debate in the measurement of the impact of cyberbullying and many academic researchers believe that there is unsatisfactory concern raised towards psychometric issues within the current and historical studies within the area. It also addresses the notion that a greater comparison between methodologies that are used is needed to create a more in-depth, comprehensive picture of its effects on the victim and wider society and schools (Card & Hodges, 2008; Chan, Myron, & Crawshaw, 2005; Menesini & Nocentini, 2009). With a single use methodology, it can be hard to discriminate between the results and perhaps the use of multi-item (methodological) measures would best fit for this particular research into the impact of cyberbullying. Menesini and Nocentini, have drawn from the work of Nunnally (1978) and state in their research paper that, ‘multiple-item measures are considered more valid as it is very unlikely that a single-item can fully represent a complex theoretical concept’ (Menesini & Nocentini, 2009, p. 231). It is also widely acknowledged that errors occur in all forms of research measures, however using a multi-item research method approach means that ‘this unreliability averages out when scores on numerous items are summed to obtain a total score, which then frequently is highly reliable’ (Nunnally, 1978, p. 67).
The impact of cyberbullying on the mental-wellbeing of children and young adults has been the hot topic of discussion for governments, academics and researchers in modern western societies because of the increase in the amount of mental illness being reported at a younger age by individuals. The actual impact of cyberbullying is very difficult to assess, as harm is difficult to measure, and what may affect one person may not affect another. In conclusion, it is a constellation of factors that have an influence on children’s mental-wellbeing, however it acknowledges that cyberbullying has an increasing stimulus on an individual’s day-to-day lives in modern technological society. Further research is needed into the area of cyberbullying and its effects on mental health. More at-risk groups and larger sample sizes need to be used in this research to attain a clearer picture as to how the effects can be minimised. To reduce the impact that cyberbullying has, governments can educate children, parents, schools and local authorities etc, and offer support and advice to anyone that is suffering from its effects. Perhaps the use of large sample, longitudinal studies, which use a variety of methodologies; for example, surveys and questionnaires, interviews, focus groups and case studies etc, could be the best way to build up a clear picture of the impact that cyberbullying has on both cyberbully and cybervictim. This may also show if there is a change in societal attitudes to the effects of cyberbullying and how it impacts mental health and well-being. Also, further research into gender bias could have its merits, with some studies suggesting that male suicide rates are higher than females because of cyberbullying attacks. From this research, government policy, funding, education and interventions can be put into place to reduce the number of children and young adults taking their own lives through fatal suicide, in what arguably is the highest impact on mental well-being for any given individual and their families.
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