Why Cyberbullying Affects Girls More than Boys

We’ve written before about how cyberbullying can be more insidious than physical bullying because it follows kids home. Educators and parents should also be aware that online bullies are significantly more likely to target girls than boys. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 36.7% of adolescent girls have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes, as compared to 30.5% of boys.

A new study from researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, found that when it comes to cyberbullying among teens, girls are not only more likely to be victims than boys are, but they are more at risk of developing emotional problems as a result of cyberbullying.

What sort of emotional problems? At this year’s SXSWedu, the Ohio-based nonprofit Ruling Our Experiences released a report called the “Girls’ Index,” based on a nationally representative survey of more than 10,000 girls in grades 5–12. The most sobering takeaway for parents and teachers of girls was this: “Girls who spend the most time using technology are five times more likely to say they are sad or depressed nearly every day.”

At the same time, the researchers found that technology—supposedly created to connect people—can end up isolating them. They wrote: “Girls who engaged with technology the most were also the least likely to be involved in activities such as clubs, sports, band, music, and theater.” It’s important to note here that “technology” includes much more than social media. Cyberbullying can happen via email, through school technology, on Google Hangouts and even through file-sharing.

As a consequence of relentlessly feeling attacked online and isolated offline, about 20% of students who have been bullied report suicidal thoughts, according to Cyberbullying.org. This percentage is similar to the rate of suicidal ideation among the general population of adolescents (16%), but much higher than that of students who’ve never been bullied (4%).

Girls Bully Differently Than Boys

While boys tend to bully others openly, girls are often more secretive about their bullying. NoBullying.com lays out some of the methods that girls may use to bully each other online:

  • Sending intimidating emails from a fake account;
  • Spreading rumors about their victims anonymously; and
  • Bullying in packs to incite others in the group to attack the victim.

This sort of emotional abuse from their peers is especially painful to adolescent girls, said Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a child psychologist and Chief Girl and Parent Expert at Girl Scouts of the USA, in an interview with Huffington Post. “Studies at the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) show that girls place a high value, and often define their self-worth, about their friendships, social status, and connection to others.” Because they value that connection so highly, girls will hesitate to report cyberbullying for fear of having parents take away Internet access—and thus their access to their friends.