The report found that cyberbullying on its own may not be responsible for mental health problems or suicidal tendencies. It says there are likely to be a range of contributory factors in victims of cyberbullying who suffer with those issues.
Helen Gleeson, the report author, said positive peer and family relationships have been shown to help buffer the more negative impacts of involvement in cyberbullying. “In contrast, young people who experience violence, harsh discipline, or neglect are at an elevated risk of being involved as both bullies and victims,” Dr Gleeson wrote.
Her report for the Department of Education and the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention was launched alongside the National Anti-Bullying Centre at Dublin City University. Its work, having moved last year from Trinity College Dublin, will include research on how bullying can be tackled in schools, online, and in the workplace.
Dr Gleeson found similar risk factors — poor peer relationships, emotional and behavioural difficulties, more unsupervised time online, and bullying others face-to-face — in young people most at risk of being cyberbullied as those involved in traditional bullying, either as victims or bullies.
“Most young people who are cyber-victimised are also often subject to traditional types of bullying. It is difficult to determine whether negative impacts result from cyber or traditional victimisation,” she wrote.
Cyberbullying has been directly linked to a number of cases in recent years in which teenagers have taken their own lives. Dr Gleeson’s report said experiencing it is most likely to be one of a complex range of factors that contribute to poor mental health and self-harm or suicidal ideation.
She cited 2009 research which found that almost one in four Irish children reported experiencing traditional bullying but only 4% experienced cyberbullying, although it rises to 10% for mid-adolescents.
The report said it is likely that entirely new programmes are not needed to tackle cyber-bullying because it appears to be closely tied to traditional bullying. It suggested that further research is needed on the effects of family interventions, and on the media’s role — as some research has found reporting to have a detrimental effect on attitudes and beliefs. Studies on peer support strategies are also recommended.
While many strategies are often recommended in previous research, some have been found to be more effective than others. Dr Gleeson found little evidence to show that technological strategies, such as keeping passwords private or greater use of reporting facilities on social media sites, are ultimately effective.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said most of the 12 actions recommended in his department’s bullying plan last year have now been implemented, including training sessions for parents organised through the national parents’ councils, the requirement on all 4,000 schools to have dedicated anti-bullying policies, and a number of other measures.
Dr Gleeson said developing coping strategies can help reduce the negative impacts of cyberbullying, and recommends parents talk openly with children about the issue and what to do if they encounter cyberbullying.