1 in 6 Adolescents Victims of Cyberbullying Amid Increase of Cases, New Study Finds

1 in 6 Adolescents Victims of Cyberbullying Amid Increase of Cases, New Study Finds

Cyberbullying has increased over the last few years, a large survey of school-aged children in 44 mostly European countries has found.

Around one in six adolescents has reported being cyberbullied, a “small increase” from 2018, according to a new study.

Conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO)’s European regional office, researchers surveyed more than 279,000 young people aged 11, 13, and 15 about bullying across 44 European and Central Asian countries and regions as well as Canada.

They found that while overall bullying trends have remained stable, cyberbullying, including sending mean messages, posts, or emails, or sharing videos or photos online without permission, had increased.

“The digital world, while offering incredible opportunities for learning and connecting, also amplifies challenges like cyberbullying. This calls for comprehensive strategies to protect our young people’s mental and emotional well-being,” said Dr Joanna Inchley, International Coordinator of the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study, which is carried out every four years.

“It’s crucial for governments, schools, and families to collaborate on addressing online risks, ensuring adolescents have safe and supportive environments to thrive”.

Cyberbullying was slightly higher among girls, the report showed, with 16 per cent of girls being bullied compared to 15 per cent of boys.

This was up from 13 per cent of girls and 12 per cent of boys reporting this in 2018.

But at the country level, “boys in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Poland and the Republic of Moldova” reported the highest levels of being a victim of cyberbullying, the report found, with the lowest level reported by boys in Spain.

Boys were also more likely to report that they engaged in cyberbullying, with 14 per cent saying they had compared to 9 per cent of girls.

Bullying and physical fighting

The report found that overall around 11 per cent of adolescents have been bullied at school, with no significant differences on average between boys and girls. There were, however, differences between countries.

Being a victim of bullying ranged from 34 per cent among boys aged 11 in Lithuania to 2 per cent for boys aged 15 in France and French-speaking parts of Belgium.

For girls, it ranged from 33 per cent of 13-year-olds in Lithuania to 3 per cent of girls aged 15 in Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Some 6 per cent of adolescents surveyed said they engaged in bullying, with this being more prevalent among boys.

Boys were also more likely to engage in physical fighting, the report found, with 14 per cent of boys having been involved in physical fights compared to some 6 per cent of girls.

While the prevalence of fighting was higher among boys in nearly all countries, boys aged 13 and 15 in Armenia had the highest reported levels while girls aged 15 in Norway, Portugal, and Sweden had the lowest levels.

This reflects in part how boys and girls are socialised to behave, the authors said.

“Factors such as country wealth, income or gender inequality” have also been shown in previous research to impact variations in bullying and fighting, Alina Cosma, a research fellow at Trinity College Dublin and one of the report’s authors, told Euronews Health.

‘Wake-up call’

One of the girls surveyed from Belgium was quoted in the report as saying: “I think the biggest health problem in young people is that adolescents and children develop mental problems due to bullying behaviour”.

She went on to say that she hoped bullies realised that what they did was wrong.

“This report is a wake-up call for all of us to address bullying and violence, whenever and wherever it happens,” said Dr Hans Kluge, WHO’s Regional Director for Europe.

“With young people spending up to six hours online every single day, even small changes in the rates of bullying and violence can have profound implications for the health and well-being of thousands,” he added.

The study does have certain limitations as it is based on self-reported data.

“While self-reports are valuable for capturing personal experiences and behaviours that might not be observable, they can be influenced by the respondents’ willingness to disclose, their understanding of the questions, and their memory,” Cosma said.

To address these issues, the study uses representative samples, maintains anonymity to “foster honest reporting” and uses “age-appropriate questionnaires”.

“This careful methodology ensures that despite these limitations, the data collected remains reliable and robust for analysing adolescent health behaviours,” she added.

The report authors point out that bullying is often linked to poor physical health, psychological problems and poor school performance.

“From self-harm to suicide, we have seen how cyberbullying in all its forms can devastate the lives of young people and their families,” added WHO’s Kluge.

“This is both a health and a human rights issue, and we must step up to protect our children from violence and harm, both offline and online”.


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