Monday, 24 October 2016

Cyberbullying: Summary of our publication in Youth & Society

Cyberbullying can be defined as bullying which take place in the virtual world (for example via messaging services, social networking sites, emails and gaming websites), and can include a number of behaviours such as sending abusive messages, posting embarrassing or altered photographs, purposely excluding people from online groups and setting up fake online profiles1.

Cyberbullying has been shown to have a detrimental effect on young people’s health and wellbeing and their social outcomes. Young people who are cyberbullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem2,3; research has also identified a link between being cyberbullied and poorer outcomes at school3.

Questions to measure cyberbullying were first added to the HBSC survey in 2014. You can read our previous blog post which describes why cyberbullying warranted attention in the HBSC study by clicking here. Cyberbullying was measured by two questions which addressed different forms of cyberbullying (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Questions measuring cyberbullying in the 2014 HBSC survey

The prevalence of cyberbullying, and bullying more broadly, has been reported extensively in the 2014 HBSC England national report4.  Of the young people who participated in the 2014 HBSC survey in England, 18% reporting experiencing some form of cyberbullying in the past two months. Reporting cyberbullying was more common among girls than boys, and the likelihood of being victimised in this was appeared to increase with age for all young people (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Prevalence of cyberbullying (graph original published in Brooks et al. (2015))

Traditionally the health and wellbeing of young people has been approached from a deficit perspective; this approach asks why young people are ill and has often focussed on risk factors such as substance use5.  However more recently asset based approaches have begun to emerge; asking what makes young people healthy and identifying protective factors which sustain health6. The HBSC England team are keen to take a positive rather the deficit approach to young people’s health.

The data collected from the HBSC study is ideal for approaching health in this manner as it situates young people’s health in its social context, with the HBSC England survey asking young people about their family, friends, peers, school and neighbourhood. Work from the research team has explored protective factors of young people’s health in relation to risk behaviours7, body image8 and self-harm9. (Check out our recent blog post summarising our self-harm publication by clicking here).

Our latest paper on cyberbullying uses a similar positive perspective, and sought to identify elements from the different domains in young people’s lives, including family, school and neighbourhood, which may protect against cyberbullying.

The analysis highlighted eight key factors which were associated with cyberbullying. Factors were identified at the individual level (gender, age, autonomy), family (family affluence, family communication), school (sense of belonging to school, teacher support) and neighbourhood environments (perception of local area). Unlike the more traditional forms of bullying which are often restricted to the school grounds cyberbullying can continue beyond the school environment and school hours. Despite this, our recent paper emphasises the important role the school may play in preventing cyberbullying; young people who reported positive perceptions of the school environment and supportive teacher-student relationships were significantly less likely to say they had been cyberbullied.

The full paper can be found by clicking here. If you are interested in the topic of bullying you may also like to read our international collaborative paper presenting cross-cultural trends in bullying victimization between 2002-2010 by clicking here.  


1.    Bullying UK. What is cyberbullying? Retrieved October, 12, 2016 from 

2.    Wang, J., Nansel, T. R., & Iannotti, R. J. (2011). Cyber and traditional bullying: Differential association with depression. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(4), 415–417.

3.    Tsitsika, A., Janikian, M., W√≥jcik, S., Makaruk, K., Tzavela, E., Tzavara, C., … Richardson, C. (2015). Cyberbullying victimization prevalence and associations with internalizing and externalizing problems among adolescents in six European countries. Computers in Human Behavior, 51, 1–7.

4.   Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Klemera, E., Chester, K., Spencer, N., & Smeeton, N. (2015). HBSC England national report: Findings from the 2014 HBSC study for England. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire. Retrieved October, 12, 2016 from

5.   Department of Health. 92010). Health lives, healthy people: our strategy for public health in England. Retrieved October, 12, 216 from

6.   Whiting, L., Kendall, S., & Wills, W. (2012). An asset-based approach: An alternative health promotion strategy? Community Practitioner, 85(1), 25–28.

7.   Brooks, F., Magnusson, J., Spencer, N., & Morgan, A. (2012). Adolescent multiple risk behaviour: An asset approach to the role of family, school and community. Journal of Public Health, 34(S1), 48–56

8.   Fenton, C., Brooks, F., Spencer, N. H., & Morgan, A. (2010). Sustaining a positive body image in adolescence: An assets-based analysis. Health and Social Care in the Community, 18(2), 189–198.

9.   Klemera, E., Brooks, F. M., Chester, K. L., Magnusson, J., & Spencer, N. (2016). Self-harm in adolescence: protective health assets in the family, school and community. International Journal of Public Health. doi:10.1007/s00038-016-0900-2

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