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Cyberbullying Victimization and Adolescent Mental Health: Evidence of Differential Effects by Sex and Mental Health Problem Type

Abstract

The use of electronic communication technologies has become a core method for adolescent communication. While there are many benefits to such technologies, cyberbullying has emerged as a potential harm. This study examines the association between cyberbullying and adolescent mental health problems and the extent to which this association differs by sex and mental health problem type. A clustered sample of 31,148 students in grades 6–12 (Female = 51.9%; 56.5% Caucasian, 10.2% South Asian) completed an anonymous survey asking their frequency of exposure to traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying, and experiences of mental health problems over the past 6 months. Multilevel structural equation modelling was used to examine the associations. Controlling for age and traditional forms of bullying, cyberbullying was a significant predictor of adolescents’ emotional and behavioral problems. Cyberbullying was more strongly associated with emotional problems for females and with behavioral problems for males. This evidence identifies unique adverse effects associated with cyberbullying on both emotional and behavioural problems and sex differences in the strength of these associations.

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Acknowledgements

This research uses data from the 2014 School Mental Health Surveys (http://www.ontariochildhealthstudy.ca/smhs), a project led by Drs. Kathy Georgiades and Michael Boyle at McMaster University. We thank the participating schools, students, educators and principals and the Ontario Ministry of Education for their support of the study. We also wish to acknowledge Melissa Kimber, the study research coordinator, for her tireless efforts in supporting the study, as well as the rest of the study implementation team. Thanks also to research assistant Donna Oh, who helped with literature reviews.

Funding

The 2014 School Mental Health Surveys was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca; CIHR Ref #136939).

Author Contributions

S.K. conceived of this paper, and contributed to the design, analysis, interpretation of data, and drafted the manuscript; S.C. helped with the statistical analysis, interpretation, and drafting the manuscript; A.K. helped with study implementation, coordination, and editing the manuscript; M.B. participated in the interpretation of the data, critical revision, and helped draft the manuscript; K.G. participated in the statistical analysis, interpretation of the data, and helped draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Soyeon Kim.

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Dr. Boyle is supported by Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Canada Research Chair in the Social Determinants of Child Health. Dr. Georgiades is supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award and The David R (Dan) Offord Chair in Child Studies.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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All necessary ethics approvals were received for this study. The study procedures, including consent and confidentiality requirements, were approved by the Hamilton Integrated Research Ethics Board at McMaster University and the Research Ethics Committees of the School Boards involved in the study.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Kim, S., Colwell, S.R., Kata, A. et al. Cyberbullying Victimization and Adolescent Mental Health: Evidence of Differential Effects by Sex and Mental Health Problem Type. J Youth Adolescence 47, 661–672 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0678-4

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-017-0678-4

Keywords

  • Cyberbullying
  • Emotional problems
  • Behavioral problems
  • Adolescents
  • Sex difference