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Cyberbullying Less Stressful Than In-Person Bullying, Study Claims

Last Updated: June 05, 2015.

Face-to-face aggression coupled with online harassment seems most distressing to kids.

FRIDAY, June 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Young people who face bullies both online and in-person may have much greater distress than kids who deal with just one form of bullying, especially cyberbullying, a new study contends.

When bullying starts and stays online, it may not persist as long or involve a major imbalance of power. As a result, cyberbullying may be somewhat easier for young people to endure than traditional bullying that occurs face-to-face, researchers from the University of New Hampshire said.

But kids who are the victims of both in-person bullying and cyberbullying may face the greatest challenges.

The study was published recently in the journal Psychology of Violence.

"Technology-only incidents were less likely than in-person only incidents to result in injury, involve a social power differential and to have happened a series of times," said the study's lead researcher, Kimberly Mitchell, with the university's Crimes Against Children Research Center.

"Mixed episodes, those that involved both in-person and technology elements, were more likely than technology-only episodes to involve perpetrators who knew embarrassing things about the victim, happen a series of times, last for one month or longer, involve physical injury and start out as joking before becoming more serious. It is these mixed episodes that appear to be the most distressing to youth," she explained in a journal news release.

The researchers interviewed nearly 800 young people by phone between 2013 and 2014. They were between 10 and 20 years old. Slightly more than half of the participants were female.

Just over one-third of those interviewed reported being harassed in the past year. Fifty-four percent of the harassment was face-to-face, the study found. Just 15 percent only occurred online. About one-third of the bullying involved a combination of in-person and online harassment.

Cyberbullying was much more likely to involve a larger audience, but these online attacks were less likely to involve multiple bullies. Cyberbullies were also more likely to be anonymous or strangers, which is less disturbing to kids than being harassed by their friends or classmates, according to the study authors.

When bullying takes place online, it can occur any time of day and involve pictures or videos distributed to large groups of people. But this type of bullying wasn't as distressing to victims as some of the issues associated with traditional bullying, the study's authors contended.

"Instead, data from this study indicated that factors such as duration, power imbalance, injury, sexual content, involvement of multiple perpetrators, and hate/bias comments are some of the key factors that increase youth distress," study co-author Heather Turner, a professor of sociology, said in the news release.

Mitchell thinks this is notable information for adults who work with children.

"We believe that focusing on harassment incidents that involve both in-person and technology elements should be a priority for educators and prevention experts who are trying to identify and prevent the most serious and harmful bullying," she said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on bullying and cyberbullying.

SOURCE: American Psychological Association, news release, June 3, 2015

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