October 1st, 2013

Cyberbullying common across grades 9-12

One in six high school students (16 percent) have been victims of electronic bullying in the past year, reveals a study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC. last May.

The same study also found that 31 percent of high school students spend three or more hours on an average school day playing video games or using a computer for something other than school work.

Researchers analyzed data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of 15,425 public and private high school students. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts the national survey of high school students every two years to monitor health-risk behaviors among U.S. teens.

“When you talk about cyberbullying or electronic bullying, then you’re really talking about kids feeling victimized by other kids and it can have a profound impact because it’s no longer private,” says the study’s lead author Andrew Adesman, M.D., FAAP, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York.

Adesman says, “I think we really know in this day and age that words can be harmful especially when they can be published amongst a peer group through many different social media vehicles.”

Girls were more than twice as likely to report being a victim of cyberbullying than boys (22.1 percent vs.10.8 percent). Whites (18.6 percent) reported being the victim of cyberbullying more than twice as frequently as blacks (8.9 percent).

Adesman says the prevalence of online bullying raises great potential for psychological harm at a vulnerable stage of development, posing a threat to self-esteem, emotional well-being and social standing. Depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders are some of the problems that could result, he adds.

Research has suggested playing video games can boost brainpower, enhancing decision making skills and encourage social interaction. But Adesman says it’s the frequency and intensity of playing video games or using a computer that’s problematic. The survey covered video game and computer activities such as Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo DS, iPod touch, Facebook, and the Internet.

“Call me old school,” Adesman, 57, says. “I don’t have anything against video games in small quantities. Time spent doing video games is not time spent doing homework nor is it time spent exercising.”

Next, Adesman is looking at the data to determine if there is a relationship between excessive video game playing and/or television watching and asthma and obesity.

2011 marked the first time students were asked whether they had been a victim of bullying in the past year via email, chat rooms, instant messaging, Web sites and texting. The results are consistent with other studies that have shown cyberbullying is on the rise. The Youth Internet Safety Survey (YISS) by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire found youth victims of “online harassment” jumped from six percent in 2000 to 11 percent in 2010. The YISS also found girls accounted for 69 percent of victims in 2010 compared with 48 percent in 2000.

By Janine Weisman

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