Cyber Bullying and the Effects this could have on adolescents

Lizzie O’Rouke


As a frequent internet and mobile phone user, I decided to research the effects that the use of social media is having on our well-being. Through the use of the PICOT model I have refined my search question to ‘Does cyber bullying effect the emotional well-being in youths and adolescents’.  First I will explain the PICOT model and how I used it for my question. Secondly I will explain the clinical issue of cyber bullying, and critically discuss the literature I used to support my research. Finally I will explore any implications for practice and suggest any recommendations that can be put in place to help diminish cyber bullying.

Search Question - PICOT

Cyber bullying is a big problem within New Zealand and worldwide that is affecting many youths and adolescents today. It has come under increasing scrutiny with reported links to suicide and teenagers in particular being admitted to psychiatric care (Heather, 2014). Our very own television personality, Charlotte Dawson took her own life after a long and public battle with depression and being subjected to cyber bullying. In the past 18 months alone, the death of two teenage girls has been linked to abusive messages either online or through texts (Heather, 2014)

The PICOT model is an acronym, in which its primary purpose is used to help formulate a well-formed search question (Schneider & Whitehead, 2013). I used four out of the five elements (as time isn’t always used) of the acronym to help me come up with my search question.

PICOT Category

Information relating to question



The   population of my question are adolescents and youths that use social networking   sites and mobile phones.


As a   very high number of youths and adolescents use the internet and mobile   phones, I chose them as my population. Also because that age bracket is more   susceptible to cyber bullying.

Word Health   Organisation, (2014) defines youth between the ages of 15 and 24 and   adolescents between the ages of 10-19.


Adolescents   and youths that fall victim to cyber bullying and the effect it is having on their   emotional well-being.

I   will be looking at articles that have researched whether or not cyber   bullying has an effect on the emotional well- being of adolescents and youths  


How   traditional bullying differs from cyber bullying and the emotional harm   caused.

It   will be interesting to see if the emotional effect of bullying differs   between cyber bullying and traditional bullying.


The   outcome of my research will let us know if cyber bullying is having an effect   on adolescents emotional well-being and what can be done to help improve it

If   cyber bullying is having a negative effect on the emotional well-being of   youths and adolescents, then we can look into what can be done to help   fix/reduce the problem.


There   is no time frame on this question.

Time   is not needed for this question.

Clinical Issue

Over the last two decades so much has changed in regard to the way that adolescents are interacting through technology. Many of us will remember growing up with painfully slow dial up internet and having to use the land line to call your friends from school. Nowadays, youth are using text, Facebook, Snapchat and many other methods of social networking sites or apps, to instantly communicate with each other all over the world. They have access to all the internet has to offer on small hand held devices day or night. However, although the advance in technology of the internet and the use of mobile phones has endless positives, many adolescents in New Zealand and worldwide are experiencing the negative effects of cyber bullying. As nurses we are ethically obliged to be politically and culturally aware of contemporary issues within New Zealand. We will have the opportunity to work in a number of fields, not just in mental health. This is why we need to be aware of these issues and others like this when working with young people, as they may very well be subjected to some form of cyber bullying that is affecting their emotional well – being.

Evidence and Findings

Youth can spend up to ten hours a day using a vast variety of social networking media, including cell phones and the internet. Ninety seven percent of adolescents and youths report daily use of the internet (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012) and eighty three percent of New Zealand teenagers reported having ownership of a social networking site with Facebook being the most common (Wild, 2014). However, associated risks to internet use include privacy concerns and of course, cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is when someone uses technology devices such as cell phones or computers to repeatedly cause harm to others (Hornbeck & Moreno, 2011). This can be through text messaging, email, instant messaging and the use of other websites or apps to embarrass, socially exclude, harass, or to threaten another person (Hornbeck & Moreno, 2011). Cyber bullying is generally repetitive as once the material is online it can be found by anyone else who has access to the internet. Once information exists in ‘cyber space’ it is often impossible to erase completely.

Compared to traditional bullying, which typically involves face to face interaction, and tends to stop when the bully is no longer in the victims presence, cyber bullying can happen at any time of the day or night, wherever they are, so the victim is always vulnerable (Hornbeck & Moreno, 2011). Cyber bullying can also influence a larger audience as it offers an element of anonymity. This can lead to greater harm to the victim as the bully can have protection of identity, and consequently, they feel a reduced responsibility and accountability compared to face to face bullying (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Several studies, however, have shown that the victim usually knows who the person is that is bullying them. Another study has shown that in traditional bullying males were more likely to be the perpetrators, while in cyber bullying females are more likely to be both the perpetrator and the victim (Hornbeck & Moreno, 2011).

Hornbeck and Moreno (2011) state that cyber bullying can be extremely psychologically damaging to those that fall victim. Research shows that there is a relationship between cyber bullying and depression, low self-esteem, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Youths who had been bullied described feelings of anxiety, fear and sadness. This in turn, had a ripple effect, affecting their ability to concentrate in class and therefore affecting their grades. These victims were also more likely to skip school, or have detentions or suspensions (Hornbeck & Moreno, 2011). 

There are reports that show that online victimisation may be correlated with more serious distress, compared with traditional bullying, including major depression, self-harm and suicide (Schneider, O’Donnell, Stueve, & Coulter, 2012). Bullying has long been considered ‘normal’ among youths, thus not something that causes harm. However, studies are now consistently challenging that view and identifying a connection between bullying (cyber bullying especially) and emotional distress (Arseneault, Bowes & Shakoor, 2010). Drogin and Young (2008) reinforce the idea that the accessibility and anonymous nature of cyber bullying results in negative psychological effects. This shows that is it is clear that cyber bullying exerts demonstrably harmful and at times fatal effects on those that are targeted and harassed by it.

Implications for practice and Recommendations

As mentioned above, and shown through the various literature used, it is evident that   the implications of cyber bullying have negative effects on the emotional well-being of young people. The more the internet advances and the more social media expands, the greater the impact it has on youths and adolescents. This is something nurses need to be aware of as there is a high possibility the youths we will work with may be subjected to cyber bullying.

As social networking is relatively new, it is something that nurses ten to fifteen years ago wouldn’t have needed to have been concerned about. Due to the immense size of the internet and the fact that once things are in cyber space they can be almost impossible to retrieve, it is impossible to eliminate cyber bullying altogether. This is why, as nurses, we need to include assessment tools relevant to cyber bullying to monitor our patients that are at a potential risk to becoming victims of cyber bullying. We should also be aware of warning signs that may indicate that some of our younger patients are experiencing cyber bullying. Some of these signs include; appearing jumpy or anxious when receiving a message, appearing uneasy about going to school, feeling depressed, upset or frustrated, and becoming abnormally withdrawn from family and friends (Hinduja & Patchin, 2014).

Nurses are in an influential role when engaging in discussions with patients and their families about important issues and topics. Nurses can provide invaluable education to parents and young people about the dangers of the internet and how to keep adolescents safe. Nurses can discuss online activities such as social media and the potential harm that it can cause, especially around the risk of privacy and cyber bullying.

Recommending strategies for online safety is also fundamental information for parents to help prevent their children being caught in and exposed to the dangers of the internet. Possible strategies for parents to try include supervising of online activities and having open discussions with their children about the potential dangers of using social networks, such as the ‘friends’ they are matched with or talking to online. Furthermore, decreasing or removing isolated screen time by moving the computer to a public place, and not allowing the child to have one in their room or sleep with their mobile phone would help protect them from becoming involved in cyber bullying. Parents should also be encouraged to check in with what their child is doing on their phone or social networking site. Looking through this together can help open discussion about recent activity and whether it is appropriate or not. Parents should also check in with their child about the type of personal information they are putting on their social networking site.

Although technology is fast becoming the way of future learning in schools I feel that banning the use of mobile phones and preventing access to social networking sites especially during breaks and lunch time would also help decrease the risk of cyber bullying during school hours. In response to the growing concern of the adverse effects of cyber bullying, the New Zealand Government has introduced the Harmful Digital Communications Bill which, if passed into legislation, would make harmful cyber bullying a criminal offence. This world leading legislation (APNZ, 2014) would make a person, who intentionally posts a ‘harmful digital communication’ with the intention that it causes harm to a victim, liable for up to three months imprisonment or a fine of up to $2000 (Legislation, 2014). It is hoped that if this is passed into law, the threat of potential jail time will act as a strong deterrent for cyber bullies and consequently reduce the harm that cyber bullying causes in New Zealand.


Throughout this paper I have critically discussed my search question ‘Does cyber bullying have an effect on the emotional well-being of adolescents and youths?’. The various evidence based articles and other references that I used, clearly shows that there is a positive correlation between cyber bullying and the negative effect it is having on the emotional well-being of young people. Studies show that cyber bullying often has psychologically damaging effects on those that are affected by it. Victims may begin to have feelings of depression, low self-esteem, self-harm and suicidal ideation. Being a victim of cyber bullying can completely consume them, affecting school grades and other social aspects of life that all young people should be enjoying. As nurses, we have an essential role to educate parents and young people on the potential risks of the internet and how to be safe while using social networking sites and mobile phones. With New Zealand taking the lead by introducing the Harmful Digital Communications Bill, and making cyber bullying a criminal offence, if passed, hopefully we will see a decrease in cyber bullying statistics in the near future.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014). Media and Children. Retrieved from

APNZ, (2014). New law sets a net for cyberbullies. Bay Of Plenty Times. Retrieved from

Arseneault, L., Bowes, L., & Shakoor, S.. (2010). Bullying victimization in youths and mental health problems:‘Much ado about nothing’. Psychological Medicine, 40(5), 717--729.

Drogin, E., & Young, K. (2008). Forensic Mental Health Aspects of Adolescent Cyber Bullying: A Jurisprudent Science Perspective. The Journal of Psychology & Law, 36, 679.

Heather, B. (2014). Bullied teens urged to commit suicide. The Press. Retrieved from

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2014). Cyber Bullying Warning Signs- Cyberbullying us. Retrieved from

Hornbeck, K., & Moreno, M. (2011). Social networks and cyber bullies: What are your patients telling you?Advanstar Communications Inc. (2014). Harmful Digital Communications Bill 168-1 (2013), Government Bill 19 Causing harm by posting digital communication – New Zealand Legislation. Retrieved from

Schneider, S., O'Donnell, L., Stueve, A., & Coulter, R. (2012). Cyberbullying, school bullying, and psychological distress: A regional census of high school students. American Journal of Public Health,102(1), 171--177.

 Schneider, Z., & Whitehead, D. (2013). Identifying research ideas, questions, statement & hypotheses. In Z. Schneider, D. Whitehead, G. LoBiondo-Wood, & J. Haber. Nursing and midwifery research methods and appraisal for evidence-based practice (4th ed.). (p.57-76) Sydney, Australia: Mosby/Elsevier.

WHO. (2014). WHO Definition of key terms. Retrieved from

Wild, M. (2014). Cyber Safety. Retrieved from