Importance: Social media has had a profound effect on how children and adolescents interact. While there are many benefits to the use of social media, cyberbullying has emerged as a potential harm, raising questions regarding its influence on mental health.
Objective: To review existing publications that examine the health-related effects of cyberbullying via social media among children and adolescents.
Evidence review: We searched 11 electronic databases from January 1, 2000, through January 17, 2012 (updated June 24, 2014). Studies were screened by 2 independent reviewers and were included if they reported primary research, described or evaluated the use of a social media tool in the context of cyberbullying, and were conducted with children or adolescents. Data were extracted by 1 reviewer and verified by a second. All studies were assessed by 2 reviewers for methodological quality using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. Results were not pooled owing to heterogeneity in study objectives and outcomes; a narrative analysis is presented.
Findings: Thirty-six studies in 34 publications were included. Most were conducted in the United States (21 [58.3%]), sampled middle and high school populations (24 [66.7%]), and included adolescents who were 12 to 18 years of age (35 [97.2%]). The median reported prevalence of cyberbullying was 23.0% (interquartile range, 11.0%-42.6%). Five studies reported inconsistent and/or weak correlations between cyberbullying and anxiety. Ten studies found a statistically significant association between cyberbullying and report of depression. Five studies investigated self-harm or suicidality, with conflicting results. Results indicate that the most common reason for cyberbullying is relationship issues, with girls most often being the recipients. Responses to cyberbullying are most often passive, with a pervasive lack of awareness or confidence that anything can be done.
Conclusions and relevance: There is a consistent relationship across studies between cyberbullying and depression among children and adolescents; however, the evidence of the effect of cyberbullying on other mental health conditions is inconsistent. This review provides important information that characterizes cyberbullying within the context of social media, including attributes of the recipients and perpetrators, reasons for and the nature of bullying behaviors, and how recipients react to and manage bullying behaviors. This information is critical to the development of effective prevention and management strategies.