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How bad is cyberbullying for mental health?

Among students age 12 to 18 who reported being bullied during the school year, 15% said they were bullied online or by text. Social scientists are trying to learn even more about the relationship between these encounters and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Have you ever been picked on because of how you talked, or looked, or dressed?

USC developmental psychologist Dr. Brendesha Tynes and her colleagues surveyed 559 students in grades 6 through 12 to learn more about their experiences with online bullying. The social scientists wanted to know if cybervictimization leads to poor mental health, or if people experiencing depression and anxiety are more likely to be bullied?

“The answer is it’s both. If you are depressed, it could lead to more cybervictimization and also cybervictimization leads to depression," Tynes said.

The researchers surveyed the students at three different time points. Students who reported high levels of online bullying at time point one, also reported high levels of depressive symptoms at time point three. Students who said they had high levels of depressive symptoms at time point one, reported high levels of online bullying at time point two. Those with high levels of depression at time two also reported more cybervictimization at time point three.

Tynes said parents can support their child’s mental health by pointing out their strengths with others. Say, “You’re really good at thinking about how others might feel.” Or, “You’re really standing up for people.” Don’t be tempted to ban phone or computer use.

“It’s better to have them manage the experience than take away the device,” explained Tynes.

The authors say the findings suggest parents, teachersnd schools need to continue creating guidelines for online behavior that give students strategies for protecting themselves and procedures for reporting incidents. For more information or additional resources, go to www.stopbullying.gov.