NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Beyond cutting, scratching and burning, a new form of self-harm in youth has emerged: “self-cyberbullying,” where adolescents post, send or share mean things about themselves anonymously online.
A new study by Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University claims to be the first to measure the extent of this behavior, finding 1 in 20 middle- and high-school-age students have bullied themselves online.
“The idea that someone would cyberbully themselves first gained public attention with the tragic suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith in 2013 after she anonymously sent herself hurtful messages on a social media platform just weeks before she took her own life,” said Dr. Sameer Hinduja, the study’s author, in a university news release.
“This finding was totally unexpected, even though I’ve been studying cyberbullying for almost 15 years,” he added.
The study looked at almost 5,600 students between the ages of 12 and 17 years old living in the United States.
Hinduja and collaborator Dr. Justin W. Patchin from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire published results of their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
According to the report, boys were more likely to cyberbully themselves (7 percent) compared to girls (5 percent), but the reason behind this behavior differed. Boys tended to do it as a joke or a way to get attention, while girls said they were motivated because they were depressed or psychologically hurt.
“This finding is especially worrisome for the researchers as there may be more of a possibility that this behavior among girls leads to attempted or completed suicide,” said the university in a release.
Other factors which increased the chances of youth bullying themselves online included:
* Identifying as non-heterosexual (three times more likely).
* Being victims of cyberbullying (12 times as likely).
* Drugs use.
* Suffering from depressive symptoms.
* History of engaging in self-harm behaviors offline.
“We need to refrain from demonizing those who bully, and come to terms with the troubling fact that in certain cases the aggressor and target may be one and the same,” said Hinduja. “What is more, their self-cyberbullying behavior may indicate a deep need for social and clinical support.”