Parents are familiar with cyberbullying. When their child’s upset about what one of their friends posted about them on Twitter, the parent knows to tell their child that there’s nothing wrong with them. Instead, these bullies use them as a target for their own frustrations. But what’s a parent supposed to do when they find out that their child is posting upsetting things about themselves on the internet?


Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinhuja studied incidents of cyberbullying among teens. They focused on instances in which teens anonymously posted abusive, aggressive content targeted towards themselves, not others. They published an article about their study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. As part of the study, they asked American middle and high school students if they’d ever created bullying posts about themselves. About six percent of them had. Boys were more likely to, as well as LGBTQ+ teens. Also, researchers found that teens who’d experienced cyberbullying, physical self-harm or symptoms of depression were more likely to self-bully. 

When did this start?

The existence of digital self-harm came to light in 2014 after the suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith. Her family knew she’d received vile messages on the internet for months. It wasn’t until the police investigation that they discovered that Hannah herself had been sending those messages. The investigation revealed no evidence that she’d experienced bullying by her peers in the time before her death, shocking friends and family even more.

Why do teens bully themselves?

In Patchin’s and Hinhuja’s study, teens explained their behavior in various ways. Boys described their actions as a joke or a way to get attention. On the other hand, girls admitted that feelings of depression and psychological pain led to these damaging messages. Overall, the data suggested that mostly all of the teens were looking for some kind of a response.

How can we stop digital self-harm?

Teens often have a hard time expressing their need for emotional support. Teachers and parents need to engage teens in healthy conversations about their mental health. If given a safe space, whether that be with their parents, teachers or counselors, teens will feel more comfortable talking about their emotions.

Furthermore, parents and teachers should talk with teen about the dangers of social media. Children may not understand the implications of their actions in the digital world. Behavior that may started as a joke can quickly escalate into something far more serious. Encourage teens to leave their computers to talk more about their feelings in a healthy way.


Text by Anna Khan


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