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April 22, 2019

Back to the Drawing Board With Cyberbullying

Author Affiliations
  • 1Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts
JAMA Pediatr. 2019;173(6):513-514. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2019.0690

The concept of bullying is a clinically useful one. When a patient reports that they are being bullied, a practitioner can assess the presence or absence of 3 well-defined criteria: intentional harm, repetitive acts, and a notable power imbalance. Bullying involves a repeated, malicious attack against a less powerful target who, because of this power differential, is unable to defend themselves. The repetitive nature of the attack means that not only must a target endure cruelty, they must also anticipate that it will continue, perhaps indefinitely. Certainly, any conflict that involves even 1 of these characteristics can still be quite harmful. An attack against a weaker peer, even if only committed once, can still cause great damage. A sustained and repeated fight between 2 friends of relatively equal power can certainly result in emotional and social harm. But when all 3 characteristics are present, the patient is significantly more likely to experience a series of negative outcomes, including trauma, social rejection, depression, anxiety, and academic problems. Children who experience chronic bullying are at higher risk for violence, including suicide. Careful screening and appropriate referrals to behavioral and mental health professionals can help avoid serious outcomes.

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