The time that young people spend on the internet -- and on social media -- can affect their decision-making and overall well-being.
Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia identified a link between teens’ excessive social media use and the likelihood that they engage in cyberbullying. Their findings showed that social media addiction increases the risk of teens bullying others online.
“There are some people who engage in cyberbullying online because of the anonymity and the fact that there’s no retaliation,” said researcher Amanda Giordano. “You have these adolescents who are still in the midst of cognitive development, but we’re giving them the technology that has a worldwide audience and then expecting them to make good choices.”
How social media affects cyberbullying
To determine what effect time spent on social media has on cyberbullying, the researchers surveyed nearly 430 teens between the ages of 13 and 19. The participants answered questions about their social media habits, mental health, connectedness at school, and experiences with cyberbullying.
On average, the participants reported spending about seven hours online each day. However, the researchers learned that those who consistently logged the most hours on social media were the most likely to engage in cyberbullying. The study also showed that male participants were more likely than their female counterparts to engage in these behaviors as a result of social media addiction.
“Social media addiction is when people crave it when they’re not on it, and continue their social media use despite negative consequences,” Giordano said. “Some negative consequences could be they’re tired during the day because they’re scrolling all night long, they’re having conflicts with their parents, they’re getting poor grades in school, or they’re engaging in actions online that they later regret, but they still continue to use social media.”
The researchers explained that cyberbullying isn’t just one specific action; it includes everything from spreading rumors or private information about peers online to discrimination, harassment, cyberstalking, and several other behaviors. They believe cyberbullying occurs most often because the internet eliminates the fear that comes with having to face someone in person.
“The perpetrator doesn’t get a chance to see how damaging their bullying is and to learn from their mistakes and do something different,” Giordnao said. “It’s a scary situation because they don’t have the natural consequences they do with offline bullying.”
Education can serve as prevention
The goal moving forward is to ensure that teens are developing healthy relationships with technology and social media. To do this, the researchers recommend education and training programs for school counselors and personnel, students, and parents. The team says this would help identify teens who are exhibiting behaviors consistent with social media addiction and ultimately reduce the prevalence of cyberbullying.
“We need schools and school counselors to do this preventative work early and educate students about the risk of addiction with some of these rewarding behaviors like gaming and social media,” said Giordano. “We need to teach them the warning signs of behavioral addiction, what to do if they start to feel like they’re losing control over their behaviors, and help them find other ways to manage their emotions, rather than turning to these behaviors.”