A just-released study from the American Academy of Pediatrics found that cyberbullying is “only rarely the sole factor identified in teen suicides.” The study’s author, John LeBlanc, MD, was quoted in the press release as saying that “cyberbullying is a factor in some suicides, but almost always there are other factors such as mental illness or face-to-face bullying. Cyberbullying usually occurs in the context of regular bullying.” Dr. LeBlanc’s study, which was presented Saturday (10/20) at the annual AAP conference in New Orleans, looked at 41 suicide cases – 24 female, 17 male, ages 13-18 – in the US, Canada, the UK and Australia. It found that 24% involved homophobic bullying (12% of victims identified as homosexual and 12% of teens as heterosexual or of unknown sexual preference). The vast majority (78%) were bullied offline as well as online, “and only 17% were targeted online only. A mood disorder was reported in 32% of the teens, and depression symptoms in an additional 15%.” In prevention and intervention work, the focus should be more on bullying than cyberbullying, said another researcher reviewing this study.
It might be helpful to add, here, that both bullying and teen suicide have declined over the same period of the AAP study. In his 2010 paper “The Internet, Youth Safety and the Problem of ‘Juvenoia’” (PDF) Prof. David Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire, cited national data showing that “the number of teens committing suicide has been dropping dramatically for many years in the US (down 38% from 1990-2007). In addition, the percentage of youth saying they had contemplated suicide in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey has declined as well (down 52% 1991-2009). The percentage of kids reporting feeling sad or hopeless was slightly down (17% 1999-2009.” Dr. Finkelhor also reported that teenage bullying and delinquency are down: “Crimes committed by young people have declined dramatically in the US (the arrest rate for juveniles is down 33% from 1996 to 2008). School violence reported in the National School Crime Survey was down (60%, 1995-2005). Hate comments reported by school children down 27% from 1999 to 2007…. “The percent of teens who feared attacks at school or on the way to school declined (down 55% from 1995-2007).” I hope that, if the news media don’t cover the AAP and UNH research widely, they’ll at least factor it into their reporting.
- “Cyberbullying does not cause teen suicide” at Science 2.0
- A little-known (or at least seldom-noted) fact is that “both victims and perpetrators of bullying are at a higher risk for suicide than their peers,” according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center <http://www.sprc.org/sites/sprc.org/files/library/Suicide_Bullying_Issue_Brief.pdf>. As for LGBT youth, the SPRC says in the same report that they “attempt suicide at a rate 2-4 times higher than that of their heterosexual peers.”
- For more on Dr. Finkelhor’s “juvenoia” talk, see this post.
- “Bullying & peer victimization: Clearer terms, better communication”
- “Bullying still > than cyberbullying but most kids do neither”
- I probably should’ve spelled it with two i’s rather than two y’s, but: “The highly problematic term ‘cyberbullycide'”
- “Bullying: Reasons why kids don’t tell their parents”