Here at the Cyberbullying Research Center, we routinely collect data from middle and high school students so that we can keep on top of what they are experiencing online. Over the last two decades, we have completed about twenty unique studies of teens and tweens in the United States involving more than 30,000 subjects. And that number doesn’t include the handful of studies we have done of youth in other countries, or of adults who have experienced online abuse or who work with adolescents who have. Collecting, analyzing, and summarizing data into up-to-date and meaningful resources for those working to prevent–or more effectively respond to–online abuse is one of the most important activities we do.

In this latest study, 26.5% of students said they had experienced cyberbullying within the 30 days prior to taking the survey.

Our latest round of data collection was completed this past spring. In this project, we surveyed a national U.S. sample of approximately 5,000 13- to 17-year-old middle and high school students. This is the fourth time in the last seven years we have collected data from a large representative sample of U.S. youth using the same sampling strategy and methodology (2016, 2019, 2021, and now 2023). We were particularly interested this time around in seeing the extent of bullying and cyberbullying now that schools are largely back to normal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this latest study, 26.5% of students said they had experienced cyberbullying within the 30 days prior to taking the survey. This compares to 23.2% in 2021, 17.2% in 2019, and 16.7% in 2016. In 2023, the most common forms of cyberbullying experienced (among those who were cyberbullied) included:

• Someone posted mean or hurtful comments about me online (77.5%)• Someone spread rumors about me online (70.4%)• Someone embarrassed or humiliate me online (69.1%)• Someone intentionally excluded me from a group text or group chat (66.4%)• Someone repeatedly contacted me via text or online after I told them to stop (55.5%)

In 2016, 10.3% of students told us that they had stayed home from school because of cyberbullying. In 2023, that number nearly doubled to 19.2%. Finally, in 2016, about 43% of students said that bullying and cyberbullying were “a big problem” in their schools while in 2023 54% of students said that was the case.

Interestingly, even though the number of youth experiencing cyberbullying had increased, and more students told us that they stayed home from school because of cyberbullying, the percentage who said that they were cyberbullied in a way that significantly impacted their school experience actually dropped slightly (from 14.3% percent in 2021 to 13.5% in 2023). Similarly, online threats dropped from 22.6% to 20.7% over the same time period. Perhaps this is an indication that the worst forms of online abuse are declining even while the more typical forms endure (or even increase). Admittedly, these are very small decreases, but at least they are trending in the right direction as opposed to the overall numbers of youth experiencing cyberbullying.

Somewhat surprisingly, the percentage of students who experienced bullying at school in 2023 remained remarkably similar to levels observed in 2021 (22.6% and 25% respectively). As expected, school bullying dropped significantly during the pandemic, from over half of students saying they were bullied at school in the previous 30 days, to less than one-quarter saying so just a couple of years later. This makes sense since many students simply weren’t in school during the worst months of the pandemic. What wasn’t expected, however, was that this trend would continue into 2023, as most students have now moved back into their classrooms. We’re not sure what explains this. Perhaps as more youth were exposed to cyberbullying over the last few years, adolescents have become more comfortable participating in that form. Or it could also be related to the fact that interacting via online platforms has become an even bigger part of adolescent life since the pandemic that youth are just more comfortable engaging with others digitally (both positively and negatively). But honestly, these are just speculations. We’ll have to do even more research and see how these trends persist moving forward.

We will continue to share additional findings from this latest study over the course of the next several weeks.

Photo by Lesli Whitecotton on Unsplash
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