Written by Bishop Noble
The experience of being bullied and its resulting side effects can be traumatic for victims. Victims of both traditional bullying (face to face) and cyber bullying (online) may suffer from depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Scholars have also found that both types of bullying are linked with delinquency in middle school and high school children (Hay, Meldrum, & Mann, 2010). However, there is a conversation regarding whether or not the effects of cyber bullying are more severe or just different in nature (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). The purpose of this blog is to examine the effects of cyber bullying on victims and how the unique features of cyber bullying can lead to increases in levels of delinquency in middle school and high school children.
What is Cyber Bullying, and How Does It Affect the Victim?
Cyber bullying is a newer type of bullying that involves harassing an individual online through a digital platform, such as social media. The act is typically done by sending intimidating or threatening messages to the ostracized student (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). These bullies can be classmates, or they may even be anonymous users online. However, most of the time the victims know the bully (McCuddy & Esbensen 2017). Studies have found that cyber bullying victimization can lead to delinquency (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007). Students who experience cyber bullying are more likely to engage in assault, substance abuse, skipping school, and other problematic behaviors than those students who have not experienced cyber bullying (Hinduja & Patchin, 2007). Hay and colleagues (2010) even found that victims of cyber bullying self-reported greater delinquency effects than victims of traditional bullying.
What are the Unique Features of Cyber Bullying?
One aspect of cyber bullying that may contribute to increased levels of delinquency is the disconnect and disinhibition that are associated with it (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). The ability for cyber bullies to remain disconnected from direct consequences while online may lead them to become more aggressive in the messages that they send to their victims. Additionally, the anonymity of the act can make the bully feel more in control and the victim feel less in control (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Another unique feature of cyber bullying is a concept called tethering. Tethering is the idea that victim is unable to escape the cyber bully, regardless of where s/he goes (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Due to the increased use of electronic devices, such as phones, the victims may feel as if they are carrying around the bullies in their pockets (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). With traditional bullying, victims can escape their bullies when they are not at school or social events. With tethering, the bully is always there online, and the victim feels as if s/he cannot escape (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017).
Findings from McCuddy and Esbensen’s (2017) Study
McCuddy and Esbensen (2017) examined the relationship between bullying victimization and delinquency using four waves of panel data to analyze the separate effects of traditional bullying, cyber bullying, and dual bullying victimization. Their data came from the second National Evaluation of the Gang Resistance Education and Training program that surveyed 31 middle schools across seven cities (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Results revealed that those who experience cyber bullying show heightened substance abuse and nonviolent delinquency (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Dual bullying appeared to be most strongly associated with general delinquency. Surprisingly, traditional bullying remained significantly weaker across all models and analyses (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017).
In conclusion, cyber bullying is associated with increased levels of delinquency, especially during the middle school and high school years. Cyber bullying can increase sadness, anxiety, fear, and depression in students and push them towards acts of delinquency that they may not have engaged in previously (McCuddy & Esbensen, 2017). Therefore, it is important that school administrators and mental health professionals understand cyber bullying and how to help students who are going through these harmful experiences. The responsibility to advocate for the victims falls on both the school system and the parents at home, who can recognize these forms of bullying and help students experiencing cyber bullying.
Hay, C., Meldrum R., & Mann K. (2010). Traditional bullying, cyber bullying, and deviance: A general strain theory approach. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 26, 130-47.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin J.W. (2007). Offline consequences of online victimization. Journal of School Violence, 6, 89-112.
McCuddy, T., & Esbensen, F. (2017). After the bell and into the night: The link between delinquency and traditional, cyber-, and dual-bullying victimization. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 54, 409-441.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Jessica Utley
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor