Online Bullying Harms Teens: Study

By Nicholas Zifcak
Nicholas Zifcak
Nicholas Zifcak
June 19, 2013 Updated: June 18, 2013

Teens bullied online are more likely than their peers to fall into depression, drug abuse, and Internet addiction, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

The study also found the converse to be true: adolescents who are depressed or use drugs can become targets of cyberbullying, according to a news release from Health Behavior News Service.

The key is to understand how being cyberbullied can lead adolescents to drug abuse and depression, said the lead author of the new study, Manuel Gamez-Guadix, Ph.D., of the University of Deusto in Spain, the Health Behavior News Service reported.’s Parry Aftab, a child advocate and expert in cyberlaw, wrote in an email that depressed teens “may be depressed as a result of other targeting and a likely cybervictim, as such and they may be exhibiting loner/antisocial behavior, which often attracts cyberbullying.” However, Aftab said she is not sure the new study’s finding that drug users are targets of cyberbullying is accurate. 

The focus on cyberbullying may be misleading, according to psychologist Dan Olweus, Ph.D., of the University of Bergen, Norway. Olweus has studied bullying and cyberbullying extensively in the United States and internationally, and “results suggest that the new electronic media have actually created few ‘new’ victims and bullies,” Olweus said at the American Psychological Association’s 120th Annual Convention last August.

Being bullied online is often an extension of being bullied in person. Depression, lack of self-esteem, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts are often experienced by children bullied online, just like victims bullied in person, said Olweus. “However, it is difficult to know to what extent these problems actually are a consequence of cyberbullying itself. As we’ve found, this is because the great majority of cyberbullied children and youth are also bullied in traditional ways, and it is well documented that victims of traditional bullying suffer from the bad treatment they receive.” 

The popularity of social networking sites among students means insults are visible to a student’s friends and other peers. It’s hard to expunge bullying words or pictures once they are posted. 

“Adolescents are living their life on the Internet today,” said Robert D. Sege, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Boston University, in a news release from Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health. “This includes societal experiences and non-adaptive behaviors that are often clustered together during their teen years.”

“It’s pretty clear if you are cyber bullied, you are more apt to be vulnerable to a cluster of non-adaptive behaviors,” said Sege.

Gamez-Guadix and his colleagues surveyed 845 students between 13 and 17 years old. Of those, 24 percent reported one event of online bullying, 15.9 percent reported two incidents, and 8 percent reported three incidents of online bullying.