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'Cyberbullying' as Harmful as Physical Threats, Study Finds

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- It may seem harmless to many, but for those who are targeted, online bullying is just as harmful as being bullied physically, according to a new study.

A research team led by a Michigan State University professor found that children who faced "cyberbullies" or were bullied through their cellphone were just as likely to skip school or think about suicide as kids who were picked on in person.

Parents, lawmakers and school officials should take all forms of bullying into account -- real world (physical bullying) and virtual world (cyberbullying) -- when shaping antibullying policies and procedures, the study authors suggest in the report published online Feb. 7 in the International Criminal Justice Review.

"We should not ignore one form of bullying for the sake of the other," Thomas Holt, an associate professor of criminal justice, said in a university news release. "The results suggest we should find ways to develop school policies to combat bullying within the school environment and then figure out how to translate that to the home, because the risk goes beyond the schoolyard."

For the study, the research team analyzed survey data collected from more than 3,000 children in grades 3 through 11 in Singapore. The study revealed 22 percent of the students who were physically bullied skipped school or at least thought about not going. By comparison, 27 percent of the students questioned who were victims of a cyberbully, either through email or an online blog or chat room, did the same.

The study also found that 28 percent of those who were bullied through text messages on their cellphones also skipped school or thought about skipping school.

Of the students who were physically bullied, the study showed 22 percent thought about suicide, compared to 28 percent of those who were cyberbullied. The researchers pointed out 26 percent of those who were bullied through their cellphone also considered suicide.

In addition, the investigators noted that girls and younger students were more likely to think about suicide. The findings underscore previous studies conducted in the United States and Canada, the authors pointed out in the news release.

The researchers advised parents to be aware of warning signs signaling that their child may be the victim of bullying, including: mood changes; sadness; poor school performance; social withdrawal; lack of appetite.

When it comes to cyberbullying, Holt concluded, "careful supervision of youth activity online, including the use of filtering software, can help reduce the likelihood that the child is targeted by bullies via the Web."

The study authors also advised parents to monitor their children's cellphone use because children are often reluctant to report this type of bullying for fear of losing their phone privileges.

"Thus," Holt added, "parents must carefully educate their children on the risk of bullying victimization via mobile phones and ensure that they can speak to one or both parents about negative experiences."

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about bullying.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Michigan State University, news release, Feb. 11, 2013

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