With rapid growth of modern technologies people are entitled to exploit and experience numerous opportunities and benefits of such. However, when the youth and adolescence are in sight, there should be very attentive and precise analysis made to ensure the potential benefits outweigh the risks and threats. It is not a surprising fact anymore that a constantly increasing number of children, teenagers and adolescence are using the Internet and social networking in particular. Moreover, many social networks are specifically created to target the youngsters. There have been multiple research carried out to determine what impact spending time in social networks has on psychological state and development of young, thus, not yet formed personalities. The results are not univocal: there were both advantages and disadvantages established. However, certain risks that social networking imposes on youth have been proved. The aim of this paper is to show that social networking has made way for increased instances of cyberbullying, resulting in psychological consequences, including depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide among youth and adolescence.
Adolescents use multiple Internet media to gather information with schooling purposes, link to peers sharing common interests and “explore typical topics of interest such as sexuality, identity, and partner selection” (Subrahmanyam, Lin, 2007, p.660). Social networking has given youth and adolescence a unique opportunity to communicate without any psychological restraints, such as embarrassment, which is their frequent companion during face-to-face communication. This enabled “new opportunities for the presentation of the self, learning, construction of a wide circle of relationships, and the management of privacy and intimacy” (Livingstone, Brake, 2010, p.75). However, many psychologists are on the alert concerning social networking as one of the main and prevailing leisure activity for the adolescents. First of all, the youth and adolescence frequently have “limited capability for self-regulation” (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.800). Moreover, many research on the time spent in social networks by the youth and adolescence show that more than a half of them log on to their social network more than once a day (O’Keeffe, Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.800). Predominance of social networking over other activities results into poor social relations or even social isolation, concurrent sleep deprivation and depression. Purposeless web surfing and social networking may lead teenagers and adolescents to unexpected and undesirable findings. “Studies have also reported that youth who spend time online are exposed to a variety of sexual and violent material, including the risk of meeting dangerous people” (Dowell, Burgess, Cavanaugh, 2009, p.548). This is why parenting control and awareness of the nature of social media sites should be clear, strict and conscious to avoid possible influence on further sexual and psychological development of adolescents (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.801).
Secondly, the youth and adolescence frequently lack “susceptibility to peer pressure” (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.800). Moreover, they are at risk of harmful contacts resulting from not being capable of sober and adult evaluation of the situation. This makes the Internet and other forms of communication technology to be the place where children and youth are “at risk of being bullied online” i.e. cyberbullied (Mishna, Cook, Gadalla, Daciuk, & Solomon, 2010, p.362). Cyberbullying is deliberate, repeated spread of false, embarrassing, hostile information or threats through digital media (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.801). It may include sending “threatening text-messages, posting libelous or malicious messages on social networking sites or uploading unflattering or humiliating pictures or videos to the Internet without permission (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010, p.615). In other words, cyberbullying is using electronic devices (phones, computers, etc.) to threaten, torment, sexually harass, humiliate and socially exclude. Similar to traditional bullying, cyberbullying is the issue of power, however, its’ main distinction, usage of digital media and social networking in particular as a rather new yet improbably popular medium, allows to spread information to vast audiences in a tremendously short time yet still keeping the author anonymous. Social networks are of specific interest in terms of cyberbullying as any information posted on a person’s profile will be accessible by a large group of friends and people engaged in certain common activities.
Cyberbullying has been proved to be a significant problem of the modern online world. Different sources indicate cyberbullying prevalence from 9 to 25% (Mishna et al., 2010, p.363). The research states that in many cases online behavior reflects offline behavioral samples (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.801). Livingstone and Brake, in their article On the Rapid Rise of Social Networking Sites: New Findings and Policy Implications, indicate that only in the USA about 72% of young people about 12-17 years old were bullied online, while 85% were bullying victims in real life (Livingstone & Brake, 2010, p.78). This proves that those being bullied online are frequent bullying victims in real life as well. Moreover, in many cases victims know their offender. The research shows that prevailing majority of cyberbullying cases was done by someone the victim considered a friend or a person from school (Mishna et al., 2010, p.365).
Adolescents survive the period in their lives when their personalities are still forming and thus are extremely vulnerable and largely dependent on social opinion and stereotypes (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010, p.615). Adolescents are still in the process of choosing their social roles and define themselves as leaders or followers. This frequently leads to “psychological power experiments” with consequences in humiliating and harassment. However, there still are cases when a person was cyberbullied by a stranger and without clear reason.
Cases of cyberbullying vary in detail and take different forms. Tom Altobelli, a Federal Magistrate in the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, describes several examples of cyberbullying, “A 14-year-old boy said that he received Instant Messages from someone who said he was hiding in the boy’s house with a laptop. The boy was home alone at the time. He was very frightened” (Alobelli, 2010, p.469). Another 12-year-old girl told there had been messages posted about her in the Internet containing swear words and sexual context (Alobelli, 2010, p.469). Cyberbullying offenders may see it as an innocent virtual game allowing them to leave unpunished and their deed practically unsubstantiated. It definitely is much easier to humiliate and be cruel through digital media, because of the distance between the victim and the offender. Moreover, electronic communication makes commonly-accepted norms of social behavior, laws and morals less relevant (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010, p.615).
On the contrary, from the victims’ point of perception these cases are not entertaining at all. According to multiple sources cyberbullying is capable of resulting into serious psychological disorders such as “depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide” (O’Keeffe & Clarke-Pearson, 2011, p.801). Frequently, cyberbullying victims skipped school, reported feelings of sadness, fear, had detentions and showed inability to concentrate (Mishna et al., 2010, p.365). According to research by Dowell et al. (2009), “youth who reported being targeted for Internet harassment were 8 times more likely than all other youth to concurrently report carrying a weapon to school in the past 30 days” (p.551). It is a surprising fact that cyberbullying offenders are also at risk of psychological commotions such as aggression, substance use and rule breaking (Mishna et al., 2010, p. 365). The core root to psychological issues as consequent to cyberbullying is decreased level of self-esteem. Self-esteem can be defined as internal reflection of social acceptance (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010, p.616), thus it will be inevitably affected by cyberbullying behavior which aims at humiliating, insult and torment. The research by Patchin and Hinduja (2010) indicates that there is a rather strong, “statistically significant” connection between self-esteem and cyberbullying, both offending and victimization: either counterpart of cyberbullying has prominently lower self-esteem than those who have no similar experience (p.618). While research proves self-esteem being directly and strongly affected by cyberbullying, the level of self-esteem is reflected by behavioral samples. Children and adolescents being frightened by an unusual threat even tend to hide disturbing accident from parents, friends or teachers because of various reasons starting from the lack of belief the disclosure will help to the fear that parents will limit the Internet or mobile usage (Mishna et al., 2010, p.371). Obviously, surviving so intense emotional feelings alone children and adolescents experience incredible psychological tension which they try to dispose of by available means such as substance use, seeking help from strangers, and thoughts about suicide.
To summarize, cyberbullying as a relatively new social issue is spreading at a high pace covering more and more children and youngsters. Both cyberbullying offenders and victims suffer psychological consequences of the process leading to increased anxiety, substance use, depression, aggression, ignorance, inability to concentrate on learning, etc. which is supported by numerous research. Fortunately, there are no statistically significant figures for suicide as a cyberbullying sequence, which is preceded by very intense psychological states and disorders if not being noticed and helped timely, although thoughts and attempts of suicide as a result of cyberbullying do exist. Children and adolescents are frequently unable to evaluate their actions correctly and blame themselves for being cyberbullying victims. Others feel embarrassed and survive their stress alone. To make the Internet and social networking sites a safer place to communicate and eliminate the risk of being cyberbullied, teachers and parents need to teach children basic rules of online safety, control of Internet usage by children and adolescents, build on trust in relations and be attentive to children’s mood and behavior. This will allow avoiding undesirable contacts with online predators, decreasing access to hostile information and helping young personality to overcome a more serious conflict caused by being cyberbullied online.