Cyberbullying: A 21st Century Health Care Phenomenon

Jemica Carter, PhD, RN; Feleta L. Wilson, PhD, RN, FAAN


Pediatr Nurs. 2015;41(3):115-125. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


This study examined bullying and cyberbullying prevalence among 367 adolescents 10 to 18 years of age who were attending schools and community organizations in suburban and urban neighborhoods in the Midwest United States. The correlational design investigated adolescents' daily use of technology that could be used to cyberbully peers, such as cell phones, computers, email, and the Internet. Results showed that 30% of participants had been bullied during school, and 17% had been cyberbullied, with online social networking sites the most common media employed (68%). The majority of participants owned or had access to computers (92%), email accounts (88%), social networking accounts (e.g., Facebook™ or MySpace™) (82%), and cell phones (79%). Daily technology use included an average of two hours on a computer and a median of 71 text messages per day. Logistic regression analysis revealed no significant differences in bullying or cyberbullying prevalence based on location (urban or suburban) or demographic characteristics. Given the substantial presence of cyberbullying and the increase in technology use among adolescents in the 21st century, nurses need knowledge of the phenomenon to plan assessments in clinical practice. Early identification and assessment of cyberbullying victims and perpetrators, and development and implementation of effective interventions are needed to reduce this form of bullying among adolescents.


In the 21st century, electronic communication tools, such as mobile or cell phones, text messaging, email, instant messaging (IM), and social networking websites, have become increasingly important to adolescents in maintaining their social networks. Some adolescents use these technologies to harm their peers, a phenomenon known as "cyberbullying." Cyberbullying has been defined as "covert, psychological bullying conveyed through electronic mediums" (Shariff & Gouin, 2005, p. 3) and is a growing problem among adolescents (Wang & Iannotti, 2012). Like its counterpart traditional bullying, cyberbullying can result in physical and psychological harm, and has been associated with emotional distress, depressive symptomology, and conduct problems, such as use of alcohol and cigarettes (Patchin & Hinduja, 2006; Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007; Shariff & Hoff, 2007; Sourander et al., 2010; Wang, Nansel, & Iannotti, 2011; Ybarra & Mitchell, 2004).

Cyberbullying is receiving more public attention due to the harm caused to victims that can result in anxiety and depression, somatic illness, retaliatory violence, and suicide (Sourander et al., 2010; Wang & Iannotti, 2012; Wang et al., 2011). However, the literature is limited regarding the role of health professionals, specifically nursing, in addressing this 21st century phenomenon. Given its potential for harmful and violent outcomes, nurses should be aware of the implications of cyberbullying and recognize its negative effects on adolescent well-being. Nurses may also want to know about factors related to cyberbullying prevalence as an aid to recognize and assess harm among patients.

This article presents findings of a survey of adolescents' experiences with traditional bullying and cyberbullying, and describes factors that may be associated with cyberbullying, such as access to technology. The role of nurses in assessing health outcomes linked to cyberbullying and community interventions that could be implemented in collaboration with leaders and educators are discussed. Strategies for gathering information from adolescents regarding cyberbullying experiences, both in clinical and research settings, are also presented in this study.