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Cybervictimization and Suicide Risk in Adolescence: An Integrative Model of Social Media and Suicide Theories

Abstract

Accumulating research suggests that cybervictimization is associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescents. However, the means by which cybervictimization may influence suicide risk remain unclear. This lack of knowledge is concerning, given widespread use of online communication among youth and the devastating public impact of suicide in adolescence. One reason for this gap in the literature is that relevant frameworks have emerged from disparate academic traditions. Contemporary social media researchers have drawn on computer-mediated communication and media effects theories to characterize the impact of social media on peer processes. Traditional suicide researchers have identified factors contributing to suicide risk. However, these frameworks have never been synthesized to demonstrate how adolescent cybervictimization influences suicide risk. Thus, the purpose of this review is twofold. First, existing research on adolescent cybervictimization and suicidal thoughts and behaviors is summarized. Then, the social media “transformation framework” and interpersonal suicide theories are integrated to provide a new model of the impact of cybervictimization on adolescent suicide risk. The proposed model describes how unique features of the social media environment (e.g., publicness, availability, quantifiability) shape the experience of cybervictimization and associated interpersonal risk factors for suicide. This framework may serve as a theoretical guide for future interdisciplinary approaches to the study of adolescent cybervictimization and suicide.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported in part by Grant PDF-010517 from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Dr. Nesi). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of AFSP. We wish to thank Dr. Mitchell J. Prinstein for his valuable feedback on the manuscript.

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MM-S conceived of the review, conducted the literature review, and drafted the manuscript. MM-S and JN together conceptualized the theoretical model presented. JN helped draft and edit subsequent iterations of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Maya Massing-Schaffer.

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Massing-Schaffer, M., Nesi, J. Cybervictimization and Suicide Risk in Adolescence: An Integrative Model of Social Media and Suicide Theories. Adolescent Res Rev 5, 49–65 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-019-00116-y

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Keywords

  • Cybervictimization
  • Suicide
  • Social media
  • Transformation framework
  • Adolescence