Children who are bullied are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts than children who are not bullied, and cyberbullying is more closely linked to suicidal thoughts than in-person harassment according to a new study published in JAMA pediatrics.
Conducted by researchers in the Netherlands, the study analyzed data from 34 other studies involving almost 300,000 participants. Researchers found that students who were bullied were almost twice as likely to consider killing themselves and two and a half times more likely to actually attempt suicide. The higher risk was found among various age groups and affected both genders.
A few studies also showed that cyberbullying had a higher correlation to suicidal thoughts than bullying that occurred in person. The authors suggest that the more intense effects of cyberbullying may be because of the wider audience and longer life of cyberbullying. Insults or threats posted online are visible by many more people than bullying that happens at a child's school. Anonymity can also make bullies bolder, encouraging students who might not harass someone in person to join in the pack of bullies attacking their victim online.
While the bullies may see their actions as just a joke, their victims feel very differently. Cyberbullying victims may feel re-victimized every time they go online because of the ongoing nature of the attacks. It may also feel impossible to escape. Some victims report feeling that it's useless to take self-protecting actions such as turning off their phones because the messages will just be there waiting as soon as they turn them back on or go back online.
One way parents can help is by encouraging a technique called "positive slamming." Feeling that no one sees or cares can increase the isolation and pain of cyberbullying victims. If a student's friends respond to cyberbullying attacks by inundating the victim with positive messages, it lets the student know they are not alone. It also lets the bully know that their actions are not welcome.
Helping children move from bystanders to advocates is an important part of preventing bullying. Parents can also arm themselves with digital parenting tools like uKnowKids in order to become aware of what their kids are experiencing online.