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Open Access Research article

Cyberbullying among Finnish adolescents – a population-based study

Pirjo L Lindfors1*, Riittakerttu Kaltiala-Heino23 and Arja H Rimpelä13

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health Sciences, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

2 Medical School, University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

3 Department of Adolescent Psychiatry, Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:1027  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-1027

Published: 23 November 2012

Abstract

Background

Cyberbullying, threatening or harassing another via the internet or mobile phones, does not cause physically harm and thus the consequences are less visible. Little research has been performed on the occurrence of cyberbullying among adolescents or the perception of its seriousness. Only a few population-based studies have been published, none of which included research on the witnessing of cyberbullying. Here, we examined exposure to cyberbullying during the last year, and its frequency and perceived seriousness among 12 to 18-year-old adolescents in Finland. We studied four dimensions of cyberbullying: being a victim, bully, or both victim and bully of cyberbullying, and witnessing the cyberbullying of friends.

Methods

Self-administered questionnaires, including four questions on cyberbullying, were mailed to a representative sample of 12-, 14-, 16-, and 18-year-old Finns in 2009 (the Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey). The respondents could answer via the internet or paper questionnaire.

Results

The number of respondents was 5516 and the response rate was 56%. Girls more often than boys reported experiencing at least one dimension of cyberbullying during the last year. The proportion was highest among 14-year-olds and lowest among 18-year-olds of both sexes. Among girls, the most commonly encountered dimension was witnessing the cyberbullying of friends (16%); and being a victim was slightly more common than being a bully (11% vs. 9%). Among boys, an equal proportion, approximately 10%, had been a victim, a bully, or had witnessed cyberbullying. The proportion of bully-victims was 4%. Serious and disruptive cyberbullying was experienced by 2% of respondents and weekly cyberbullying by 1%; only 0.5% of respondents had been bullied weekly and considered bullying serious and disruptive.

Conclusions

Adolescents are commonly exposed to cyberbullying, but it is rarely frequent or considered serious or disruptive. Cyberbullying exposure differed between sexes, such that girls more often than boys witness cyberbullying of friends and boys more often act as the bully than girls. In future studies, the witnessing of cyberbullying and its consequences should be taken into account.

Keywords:
Adolescents; Cyberbullying; Witnessing cyberbullying