Journal of Adolescent Health 56 (2015) 473e474 Editorial

Cyberbullying and Bullying Must Be Studied Within a Broader Peer Victimization Framework For more than a decade, researchers have been exploring the prevalence and impact of various forms of peer victimization online or in the “cyber” world. Adolescents’ use of new technologies such as the Internet, cell phones, and text messaging has expanded dramatically [1,2]. As of 2012, 95% of teens (ages, 12e17 years) were using the Internet, 81% were using some kind of social media, 78% owned a cell phone, and 75% of teens were texting [3]. Given that youth online communication has increased, it is not surprising that negative and harassing behaviors online, including cyberbullying, have increased as well [4]. However, the amount of public and academic attention to cyberbullying sometimes overshadows the consistent finding that in-person peer victimization and bullying happens to youth at substantially higher rates than online victimization experiences [5]. Furthermore, it is not clear that research has demonstrated that cyberbullying is different enough in victim experience and in impact to be considered a separate type of bullying. With too singular a focus of study on cyberbullying, researchers may be setting up a distinction that does not exist as clearly for youth themselves. In this issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, Waasdorp and Bradshaw [6] provide an important contextual look at the overlap of traditional bullying and cyberbullying. They found that 23% of youth reported being victims of any form of bullying within the last month, with 25.6% of those victims reporting being cyberbullied. Perhaps one of the most interesting findings is that only 4.6% of cyberbullying victims reported being only cyberbullied. This means that when technology is involved in bullying, it almost always occurs within the context of traditional forms of bullying. This is an important finding because, so far, much of the research on the negative impact associated with cyberbullying has studied it in isolation. Waasdorp and Bradshaw find an increased odds of both internalizing and externalizing symptoms among youth who were cyberbullied compared with those who were only bullied traditionally. Yet, given the large overlap between cyber and traditional bullying, how much can we attribute negative effects to the technology versus the fact that the youth was experiencing harassment and bullying in multiple places? To understand if and how technology changes the impact of bullying on youth, we need incident-level data that can explore

how the different characteristics of a peer harassment incident affect the impact on victims, including whether technology was involved in some way or not. One of the things that Waasdorp and Bradshaw were not able to disentangle with their data was how often the overlapping victimization experiences represented multiple but unrelated incidents versus different victimization experiences happening as part of an extended bullying incident. Although 71% of victims of overlapping bullying reported that a different person bullied them online versus in person, some bullying incidents involve multiple perpetrators. We have recent research to suggest that harassment and bullying that happens solely online is in fact less distressing to youth than traditional harassment and bullying incidents, and that incidents that involve both in-person and online elements are most distressing [7]. The findings by Waasdorp and Bradshaw begin to hint at why more information is needed about overlapping bullying experiences and why we need to understand it better. When harassment and bullying happen across multiple contexts, it may be that the incidents are marked by more complex negative social interactions that have high emotional salience for those involved. Online harassment and bullying can clearly be upsetting, but it may be less the technology itself, and more the intensity, animosity, and the nature of the relationship between victims and perpetrators that drive the distress. Understanding this has important implications for prevention and intervention efforts. A number of cyberbullying prevention programs and messages were developed in the wake of widespread concern about cyberbullying [8], but these may fail to capture the complex dynamics of the overlapping bullying experiences that are most distressing for youth. Broader bullying prevention programs like those cited in the article by Waasdorp and Bradshaw and evidence-based social emotional education programs teach youth to handle negative feelings, de-escalate tensions, and problem-solving, and therefore may be better options for reducing online bullying. Evaluation research is needed exploring the impact of these programs on highly negative, longer term bullying and harassment incidents that happen across multiple environments, including online.

See Related Article p. 483

1054-139X/Ó 2015 Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. All rights reserved.


Editorial / Journal of Adolescent Health 56 (2015) 473e474

We encourage continued research that incorporates technology as one possible component among many that might affect how peer harassment negatively impacts youth. By approaching the study of peer victimization with a broader view, we will provide parents, teachers, and other youth-serving professionals with more information on the incident and child-level factors that indicate the greatest risk of harm. By studying peer victimization broadly, we can make sure that our findings are best capturing the full experiences of youth and that we are identifying the negative events that are most distressing for them.

Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ph.D. Lisa M. Jones, Ph.D. Crimes Against Children Research Center University of New Hampshire Durham, New Hampshire

References [1] Lenhart A, Ling R, Campbell S, Purcell K. Teens and mobile phones: Text messaging explodes as teens embrace it as the centerpiece of their communication strategies with friends. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center; 2010:86e90. [2] Lenhart A, Madden M, Macgill A, Smith A. Teens and social media: The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project; 2007. [3] Pew Internet & American Life Project. Teens fact sheet. Available at: http://www.; 2014. Accessed March 5, 2015. [4] Jones L, Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D. Online harassment in context: Trends from three Youth Internet Safety Surveys (2000, 2005, 2010). Psychol Violence 2013;3:53e69. [5] Mitchell KJ, Finkelhor D, Wolak J, et al. Youth internet victimization in a broader victimization context. J Adolesc Health 2011;48:128e34. [6] Waasdorp TE, Bradhsaw CP. The overlap between cyberbullying and traditional bullying. J Adolesc Health 2015;56:483e8. [7] Mitchell KJ, Jones LM, Turner HA, et al. The role of technology in peer harassment: Does it amplify harm for youth? (In press.) [8] Jones LM, Mitchell KJ, Walsh WA. Evaluation of internet child safety materials used by ICAC task forces in school and community settings, Final Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice; 2013.

Cyberbullying and bullying must be studied within a broader peer victimization framework.

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