Cyber-Bullying Versus Traditional Bullying and Its Psychological Effects

In addition to the traditional bullying, parents, educators, and nurses are challenged with the necessity to discuss the effects of the development of such tendency as cyber-bullying. The problem is in the fact that the popularity of mobile devices and the active usage of the Internet changed the mode of bullying among young people. Researchers state that cyber-bullying can have even more negative effects on the psychological state of children and adolescents than traditional bullying (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Sticca & Perren, 2013). The existing scholarly literature provides the analysis of the aspects of cyber-bullying and face-to-face bullying in terms of their impact on young people’s psychological state and their thoughts on suicides (Sticca & Perren, 2013; Williams & Godfrey, 2011). The research question that guides the literature review is the following one: Are young people who are cyber-bullied at a higher risk for suicide than young ones who are bullied face-to-face? A detailed review of the recent literature on the topic is important for the nursing practice to determine the possible effects of cyber-bullying and analyze the existing interventions in the field.

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The search of the literature on the topic of cyber-bullying versus traditional bullying was conducted in several stages. During the first stage, the EBSCOHost research database was searched. For searching the articles on the connections between traditional bullying, cyber-bullying, and suicide, such databases from EBSCOHost as Academic Search Complete, CINAHL, and MEDLINE were chosen. The used keywords were “cyber-bullying,” “suicide,” and “school”. The advanced search tool was used to select peer-reviewed journal articles that were published during the 2010-2015 years. The search was refined with the focus on such keywords as “cyber-bullying,” “nursing,” and “depression”. During the second stage, the ProQuest database was searched using the same keywords. The inclusion criteria were the type of the journal (peer-reviewed scholarly journal), the type of the article (scholarly article), and the period of publication (2010-2015 years). The searches were also refined to examine only nursing journals. Finally, the same keywords in different combinations were used to search articles found with the help of the Google Scholar advanced search tool. This search allowed finding the recent online articles from BioMed Central and Online Wiley Library databases.


While searching databases of EBSCOHost, it was important to find original qualitative and quantitative articles associated with the topic of the research among 866 results related to different combinations of keywords. Two articles from the CINAHL database written by Carpenter and Hubbard (2014) and Na, Dancy, and Park (2015) addressed such criteria as the presence of the cyber-bullying discussion, the analysis of psychological effects, the relation to the nursing practice, and the publication in the nursing journal. Articles by Litwiller and Brausch (2013) and Hinduja and Patchin (2010) were published in journals that were non-related to the nursing practice, and they needed further examination to add them to the list of selected studies. The search in the ProQuest database revealed 1,602 results related to different combinations of keywords. One article written by Williams and Godfrey (2011) was selected because of being published in the nursing journal and related to cyber-bullying, psychological effects on children, and the nursing practice. The article written by Sticca and Perren (2013) was selected because its topic reflected the focus of this review: cyberbullying versus traditional bullying. After refining the search, two more articles written by Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, and Coulter (2012) and Carter and Wilson (2015) were selected for further detailed examination as additional sources of information. To receive the full picture of the research in the field, the Google Scholar sources were searched, and two articles by Perren, Dooley, Shaw, and Cross (2010) and Cross et al. (2015) were published online sources were selected for further review.

While choosing the studies, the focus was also on their type to find the almost equal number of qualitative and quantitative studies on the topic. Among articles selected from the CINAHL database, one article was qualitative (the review of literature), and one article was quantitative (the cross-sectional study). The additional two studies were quantitative ones, and they were based on the data from the previous surveys. The preliminary review of articles allowed the selection of studies with the desired samples and variables. Among articles selected from the ProQuest database, one article was qualitative (the analysis of trends), and one article was quantitative (the longitudinal study). The additional studies were quantitative (the survey and the correlational study). The other two studies were selected for the review because one study was quantitative and longitudinal, focused on interventions against bullying, and the other was a quantitative study based on the survey. The mentioned studies were selected because of the researcher’s interest in samples including children and adolescents and discussing the relationships between such variables as the traditional and physical bullying, cyber-bullying, and victimization as independent variables and the psychological stress, depression, and suicide as dependent variables. Additionally, the focus was on selecting articles discussing the nurses’ roles in recognizing bullying and associated psychological effects.

Common Themes

The review of the literature revealed a range of themes discussed by researchers in the context of such topics as traditional bullying in schools and cyber-bullying. It was found that the researchers are inclined to determine such important issues as the psychological effects of bullying, differences in the effects associated with face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying, the relationship between bullying and suicidal ideation, and nurses’ interventions used to address the problem of bullying and its effects on children and adolescents (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Na et al., 2015; Sticca & Perren, 2013). For this research, such main themes as bullying and negative effects on psychological health, differences in effects of traditional bullying and cyber-bullying, and experiences with bullying and suicide ideation were determined for further discussion in detail.

Bullying and Negative Effects on Psychological Health

Despite the mode of bullying, researchers are inclined to pay attention to the negative effects that this practice has on the psychological state and health of children and adolescents. According to Carpenter and Hubbard (2014), those young people who experience bullying suffer from psychological problems and depression, they avoid contact with peers, their relationships with parents can worsen, and they can suffer from the constant pressure and fear. Perren et al. (2010) associate such feelings and behaviors with the nature of the experienced tension. The researchers state that direct and hidden bullying is an aggressive practice that is intentionally used to influence the psychological state of the young person (Perren et al., 2010). As a result, the child’s self-esteem and confidence decrease, and he becomes suffering from anxiety (Na et al., 2015; Williams & Godfrey, 2011). Hinduja and Patchin (2010) compare bullying with a form of psychological manipulation when persons can demonstrate their ignoring or violence against other adolescents with the help of words or actions. When a child experiences bullying for a long period, it is possible to speak about associated psychological problems and negative changes in the behaviors that can result in worsening academic performance, social interactions, and relations with relatives.

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Differences in Effects of Traditional Bullying and Cyber-Bullying

In their articles, Litwiller and Brausch (2013) and Sticca and Perren (2013) note that there is no difference between the impact of traditional physical or verbal bullying and cyber-bullying, but the researchers pay attention to the fact that the primary effect of both practices is extremely negative. In their turn, Carpenter and Hubbard (2014) state that the stress associated with cyber-bullying can have more significant effects on adolescents because their feeling of hopelessness and impossibility to confront cyber-bullying are higher. Still, it is also necessary to pay attention to the specific factors associated with cyber-bullying. The anonymity of messages and the possibility to involve a large audience in the process of bullying is discussed by researchers as the main causes to state that cyber-bullying is often the worse practice compared to traditional bullying (Cross et al., 2015; Schneider et al., 2012; Sticca & Perren, 2013). Those persons, who choose web-based bullying to affect their peers, actively use such features of this mode like the possibility to easily access the victim online or with the help of mobile devices, to send messages permanently and at any time, to access the victim not only at school but also at home (Cross et al., 2015; Hinduja & Patchin, 2010; Sticca & Perren, 2013). As a result of such actions of bullies, a young victim cannot feel as being in safety even at home. Williams and Godfrey (2011) state that peers are inclined to write and send online materials that are more abusive than traditional verbal and physical kinds of bullying. There are also many situations when traditional bullying is accompanied by cyber-bullying, and the effects of both practices should be taken into account (Carter & Wilson, 2015). This aspect makes the problem even more complex.

Experiences with Bullying and Suicide Ideation

The high level of victimization is associated with the development of many destructive thoughts in young people suffering from bullying. Depression that is a result of bullying can lead to suicidal ideation because of being caused by peers’ ignoring, violence, aggression, and physical or verbal abuse (Sticca & Perren, 2013; Williams & Godfrey, 2011). Perren et al. (2010) note that when children or adolescents experience bullying, this practice influences their whole life, and young people often cannot cope with the stress by themselves. In this case, Na et al. (2015) accentuate the necessity of referring to the educational and nursing interventions to address the development of psychological problems and prevent suicidal ideation. Carpenter & Hubbard (2014) claim while referring to the results of the previous research that not only victims of bullying but also bullies themselves can have psychological problems that lead them to thoughts regarding suicide. Moreover, the constant monitoring of the suicidal risks among the bullied students is necessary for nurses (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014, p. 147). Litwiller and Brausch (2013) found a direct relationship between any type of bullying and the risk of suicides. The problem is in the fact that young people often avoid informing the adults about cyber-bullying, and the risk of suicidal ideation can increase in comparison with the situation when bullying at school is addressed by teachers (Williams & Godfrey, 2011). From this point, suicides can become viewed as direct consequences of permanent bullying.

Discussion and Conclusion

The purpose of this literature review was to explore the tendencies in the discussion of the traditional bullying and cyber-bullying effects on children and adolescents. The focus was on examining the difference between the psychological effects of face-to-face bullying and cyber-bullying in terms of causing suicidal ideation or suicidal behaviors in young people. When examining the studies’ results and researchers’ ideas regarding the impact of cyber-bullying on young people’s psychological state, it was found that the investigators are inclined to discuss the three main themes in their studies and articles. The themes are the psychological effects of bullying, the connection between bullying and suicides, and the difference in the impact of face-to-face and cyber-bullying (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Perren et al., 2010; Sticca & Perren, 2013). The review of qualitative and quantitative research provided the information that both types of bullying have significant negative impacts on the psychological health of young people leading to increased anxiety, fear, the feeling of hopelessness, and depression (Williams & Godfrey, 2011). In this situation, the nurses’ assistance is necessary in order to help children and adolescents cope with the experienced problems.

In spite of the fact that the researchers agreed on the idea that any type of bullying has the negative effect on the emotional and mental health of young people, leading to depression, there is no single idea regarding the opinion that cyber-bullying has the more negative psychological effects on persons (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Perren et al., 2010; Sticca & Perren, 2013; Williams & Godfrey, 2011). On the one hand, the studies demonstrate that the Internet and mobile devices provide more opportunities for bullies to abuse their peers. Cyber-bullying is characterized by the high level of anonymity and the possibility to affect young people during a long period of time. The other features are the wide audience and the possibility of actively spread the abusive materials (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Na et al., 2015). It is also important to note that the behaviors are observed out of the school environments, and it is difficult for parents, nurses, and educators to control them because children are often inclined to conceal the fact of being bullied. On the other hand, while comparing the actual results of two types of bullying in terms of the consequences for the development of depression and suicidal thoughts, the researchers cannot provide the evidence to state that the psychological effects of cyber-bullying are more intense and more directly leading to suicides in comparison with traditional bullying.

Although there are disagreements regarding the role of cyber-bullying in influencing the children and adolescents’ behaviors, researchers claim that the cases of suicides caused by bullying are frequent. The higher rates are typical of the development of suicidal thoughts associated with the severe depression (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014; Perren et al., 2010). When a person becomes a victim of bullying, the risk of the depressive symptoms’ development increases. Therefore, to prevent the progress of the suicidal thoughts and behaviors among bullied students, the researchers propose nursing interventions (Carpenter & Hubbard, 2014). The risk of mental health problems and psychological disorders can decrease significantly in the affected or abused children.

As a result, it is possible to state that the question of whether cyber-bullied adolescents have the higher risk for suicide than people bullied face-to-face remains to be unanswered with the help of the literature review. The further research on this problem is necessary because the existing studies reveal the evidence that both bullying and cyber-bullying have dramatic effects on the students’ life, but the evidence regarding the effects of cyber-bullying is unclear. From this point, more attention should be paid to studying the actual effect of cyber-bullying on developing the suicidal behaviors in comparison to the practice of traditional bullying. The literature review indicates the basic themes that are discussed by researchers, who focus on the problem of bullying at school and on the Internet. The provided articles present the rates of suicides among bullied children and discuss the predicted effectiveness of nurses’ activities to address the problem of bullying. However, the lack of studies that can clearly state whether the cyber-bullied children and adolescents are at the higher risk for destructive behaviors than the other bullied persons is observed.

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Carpenter, L. M., & Hubbard, G. B. (2014). Cyberbullying: Implications for the psychiatric nurse practitioner. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 27(3), 142-148.

Carter, J. M., & Wilson, F. L. (2015). Cyberbullying: A 21st century health care phenomenon. Pediatric Nursing, 41(3), 115-125.

Cross, D., Shaw, T., Hadwen, K., Cardoso, P., Slee, P., Roberts, C.,… & Barnes, A. (2015). Longitudinal impact of the Cyber Friendly Schools program on adolescents’ cyberbullying behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 9(9), 1-15.

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2010). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3), 206-221.

Litwiller, B., & Brausch, A. (2013). Cyber bullying and physical bullying in adolescent suicide: The role of violent behavior and substance use. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 42(5), 675-684.

Na, H., Dancy, B. L., & Park, C. (2015). College student engaging in cyberbullying victimization: Cognitive appraisals, coping strategies, and psychological adjustments. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 29(3), 155-161.

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Perren, S., Dooley, J., Shaw, T., & Cross, D. (2010). Bullying in school and cyberspace: Associations with depressive symptoms in Swiss and Australian adolescents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, 4(28), 1-10.

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(1), 171-177.

Sticca, F., & Perren, S. (2013). Is cyberbullying worse than traditional bullying? Examining the differential roles of medium, publicity, and anonymity for the perceived severity of bullying. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 42(5), 739-750.

Williams, S. G., & Godfrey, A. J. (2011). What is cyberbullying and how can psychiatric-mental health nurses recognize it. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 49(10), 36-41.

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