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Schneider, S.K., O’Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R.W. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health, 102, 171–177.

Studies have found that anywhere from 9% to 40% of students are victims of cyberbullying and most suggest that online victimization is less prevalent than school bullying. Cyberbullying has several unique characteristics that distinguish it from school bullying. Technology allows cyberbullying perpetrators to maintain anonymity and give them the capacity to post messages to a wide audience. In addition, perpetrators may feel reduced responsibility and accountability when online compared with face-to-face situations. Studies suggest that from about one third to more than three quarters of youths bullied online are also bullied at school. Some studies have found that girls are more likely to be victims of cyberbullying, yet other studies have found no gender differences. Some studies suggest that cyberbullying victimization increases during the middle school years, and others have found no consistent relationship between cyberbullying and age.

Method: The MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey was utilized by 20,406 9th through 12th grade students in Massachusetts. Students were asked about cyberbullying victimization and school bullying victimization in the past 12 months. Cyberbullying was measured with the following question: ‘‘How many times has someone used the Internet, a phone, or other electronic communications to bully, tease, or threaten you?’’ School bullying was measured by the following question: ‘‘During the past 12 months, how many times have you been bullied on school property?’’ with bullying defined as ‘‘being repeatedly teased, threatened, hit, kicked, or excluded by another student or group of students.’’ Responses from these questions were categorically grouped into 4 categories of bullying victimization: cyberbullying victim only, school bullying victim only, both cyber and school bullying victim, and neither. Depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts were measured using items about behavior in the past 12 months. Self-injury was assessed by the item ‘‘How many times did you hurt or injure yourself on purpose?’’ School attachment was measured using a 5-item scale from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

Results: Overall, 15.8% of students reported cyberbullying, and 25.9% reported school bullying in the past 12 months. The overlap between cyberbullying and school bullying was substantial: 59.7% of cyberbullying victims were also school bullying victims, and 36.3% of school bullying victims were also cyberbullying victims. One third of all students were bullying victims: 6.4% were victims of cyberbullying only, 16.5% of students were victims of school bullying only, and 9.4% were victims of both school and cyberbullying. Reports of cyberbullying were higher among girls than among boys, whereas reports of school bullying were similar for both genders. Although cyberbullying decreased slightly from 9th grade to 12th grade, school bullying decreased by nearly half. Non-heterosexually identified youths were far more likely than were heterosexually identified youths to report cyberbullying and school bullying. Youths who reported lower school performance and lower school attachment were more likely to be victimized with cyberbullying only. Youths who were in lower grades and non-heterosexually identified youths were more likely to be victims of one or both types of bullying, as were students who reported lower grades and lower levels of school attachment. Bullying victimization was consistently associated with an increased likelihood of psychological distress across all measures from depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation to reports of self-injury and suicide attempts. Furthermore, the relationship between victimization and distress was strongest among students who were victims of both cyber and school victimization.

Discussion: Efforts to increase student engagement in school, connectedness to peers and teachers, and academic success may promote a climate in which school and cyberbullying are less likely to occur. There is also a clear need for anti-bullying programs to address and protect students who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual or who may be questioning their sexual orientation.