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Social Media Often Leads to Bullying Amongst Teenagers, Sometimes Causing Behavioral Changes and Suicidal Thoughts: What Are Some Solutions to This Problem?

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Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life, and the strength of our connections has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression, boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life. On the flip side, lacking strong social connections can pose a serious risk to your mental and emotional health.

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Bullying behavior is a serious problem among school-age children and adolescents; it has short- and long-term effects on the individual who is bullied, the individual who bullies, the individual who is bullied and bullies others, and the bystander present during the bullying event. In this chapter, the committee presents the consequences of bullying behavior for children and youth. The physical health consequences of bullying can be immediate, such as physical injury, or they can involve long-term effects, such as headaches, sleep disturbances, or somatization.1 However, the long-term physical consequences of bullying can be difficult to identify and link with past bullying behavior versus being the result of other causes such as anxiety or other adverse childhood events that can also have physical effects into adulthood (Hager and Leadbeater, 2016). In one of the few longitudinal studies on the physical and mental effects of bullying, Bogart and colleagues (2014) studied 4,297 children and their parents from three urban locales: Birmingham, Alabama; 25 contiguous school districts in Los Angeles County, California; and one of the largest school districts in Houston, Texas. Bogart and her team were interested in the cumulative effects of bullying on an individual. They collected data when the cohort was in fifth grade (2004 to 2006), seventh grade (2006 to 2008), and tenth grade (2008 to 2010). Data consisted of responses to the Peer Experience Questionnaire, the Pediatric Quality of Life Inventory with its Psychosocial Subscale and Physical Health Subscale, and a Self-Perception Profile. The Physical Health Subscale measured perceptions of physical quality of life.Limitations to this study were that physical health was measured by participants' perceptions of their health-related quality of life, rather than by objectively defined physical symptoms. It is critical to understand that this study, or other studies assessing correlations between behavior and events, cannot state that the events caused the behavior. Future research might build on this large multisite longitudinal study and obtain more in-depth evidence on individuals' physical health as a consequence of bullying.

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In the past decade, headlines reporting the tragic stories of a young person’s suicide death linked in some way to bullying (physical, verbal, or online) have become regrettably common (Karch DL, Logan J, 2013). There is so much pain and suffering associated with each of these events, affecting individuals, families, communities and our society as a whole and resulting in an increasing national outcry to “do something” about the problem of bullying and suicide. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Bullying can occur in-person or through technology. Bullying has serious and lasting negative effects on the mental health and overall well-being of youth involved in bullying in any way including: those who bully others, youth who are bullied, as well as those youth who both bully others and are bullied by others, sometimes referred to as bully-victims. Even youth who have observed but not participated in bullying behavior report significantly more feelings of helplessness and less sense of connectedness and support from responsible adults (parents/schools) than youth who are have not witnessed bullying behavior. Negative outcomes of bullying (for youth who bully others, youth who are bullied, and youth who both are bullied and bully others) may include: depression, anxiety, involvement in interpersonal violence or sexual violence, substance abuse, poor social functioning, and poor school performance, including lower grade point averages, standardized test scores, and poor attendance. Youth who report frequently bullying others and youth who report being frequently bullied are at increased risk for suicide-related behavior. Youth who report both bullying others and being bullied (bully-victims) have the highest risk for suiciderelated behavior of any groups that report involvement in bullying (King CA, Horwitz A, 2013).

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As has been noted, technology is a big factor in the lives of teenagers, and incidentally a big contributor to kids becoming depressed. There are resources available that work to assist both parents and pediatricians on how to deal with technology with children. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great resource page. Depression and suicide are important topics to bring into routine checkups. Suicide is the third largest contributor to teenage death in the country, and cannot be overlooked.

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Juvonen, J. Nishina, A. and Graham, S. Peer harassment, psychological adjustment, and school functioning in early adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology 2000; 92(2): 349-359.

Karch DL, Logan J, McDaniel DD, Floyd CF, Vagi KJ. Precipitating circumstances of suicide among youth aged 10–17 years by sex: Data from the National Violent Death Reporting System, 16 States, 2005–2008. Journal of Adolescent Health 2013; 53:S51-S53.

Kim YS, Leventhal B. Suicide and bullying. A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health 2008; 20:133-154.

King CA, Horwitz A, Berona J, Jiang Q. Acutely suicidal adolescents who engage in bullying behavior: One-year trajectories. Journal of Adolescent Health 2013; 53:S43-S50.

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Social Media Often Leads to Bullying Amongst Teenagers, Sometimes Causing Behavioral Changes and Suicidal Thoughts: What Are Some Solutions to This Problem?
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