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March 31, 2021 Wednesday 04:29:40 PM IST

Social media addiction linked to cyberbullying

As social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and others continue to grow in popularity, adolescents are spending more of their time online navigating a complex virtual world. New research suggests that these increased hours spent online may be associated with cyberbullying behaviors. According to a study by the University of Georgia, higher social media addiction scores, more hours spent online and identifying as male significantly predicted cyberbullying perpetration in adolescents.

Cyberbullying can take on many forms, including personal attacks, harassment or discriminatory behavior, spreading defamatory information, misrepresenting oneself online, spreading private information, social exclusion, and cyberstalking. The study surveyed adolescents ranging in age from 13-19 years old. Of the 428 people surveyed, 214 (50%) identified as female, 210 (49.1%) as male, and four (0.9%) as other.

When adolescents are online, they adapt to a different set of social norms than when they're interacting with their peers in person. Oftentimes, they are more aggressive or critical on social media because of the anonymity they have online and their ability to avoid retaliation. Additionally, cyberbullies may feel less remorse or empathy when engaging in these behaviors because they can't see the direct impact of their actions.

Teenagers who are addicted to social media are more likely to engage in cyberbullying, as well as those who spend more time online. Participants in the study reported spending on average over seven hours online per day, and the reported average maximum hours spent online in one day was over 12 hours.

The study also found that adolescent males are more likely to engage in cyberbullying than females, aligning with past studies that show aggressive behaviors tend to be more male-driven. More research on the socialization process of men can help determine what's leading them to engage in more cyberbullying behaviors.

The researchers believe that counselors need to start assessing adolescents for social media addiction if they are engaging in cyberbullying and to provide treatment plans to help redefine their relationship with technology. These interventions may include helping adolescents examine how they define their self-worth and restricting the amount of time they spend on social media platforms.

Often, school counselors are not aware of cyberbullying until after an incident occurs. To address this issue, Giordano recommends that schools start educating students earlier about cyberbullying and social media addiction as a preventive method instead of waiting to repair the damage. Whether it's through an awareness campaign or support group, schools can help students talk about cyberbullying to give them a chance to understand the consequences of their actions and prepare them for potential risks.

Counselors can help decrease the risk of some of these addictive behaviors at a young age by teaching and equipping children with emotional regulation skills and other ways to cope with their feelings.