The serious impact of cyberbullying on its victims are well documented in our news today. The tragic stories of Rehteah Parsons and Amanda Todd have inspired changes in national laws and sparked many policies and prevention strategies in schools. Instances of cyberbullying continue, however, and have become a regular concern in the lives of many adolescents.
Bullying in general has historically been even more of a challenge for those whom other children and teens perceive to be different from themselves and their friends. Individuals with disabilities, whether physical or mental, are more prone to becoming targets. And as bullying experts will tell you, it is not uncommon for people who are victims to then become the bully in an effort to regain self-worth and power. Therefore, bullying, both direct and online, are significant concerns to parents and teachers of students with learning and behaviour difficulties.
Heiman, Olenik-Shemesh, and Eden (2015) investigated cyberbullying involvement among teens with ADHD and how it relates to feelings of loneliness, self-esteem, and social support. In their study, which is consistent with other research, adolescents with ADHD are more likely to be involved in bullying behaviour overall, as a perpetrator, a victim, or a witness. Those who are victims reported higher levels of loneliness, and were less likely to believe in their capabilities and also report less social support. This is not surprising, but the study also found that even teens with ADHD who witnessed cyberbullying felt lonelier and less confident about themselves.
This study gives some insight into the everyday effects of cyberbullying in teens. Most surprising perhaps is the changes in feelings of loneliness and self-confidence of those who are just witnessing the events. They may be feeling empathy for the victim, they may be reminded of times when they were the victim, or perhaps they have an understanding of how the negative words are isolating peers from each other.
It is important to note that despite the negativity in the findings above, compared with other teens, the study also found that those with ADHD were more likely to ask bullies to stop or to report the instances to parents or teachers. They are able to see that something is not right and are willing to make steps to stop the bullying. While these teens experience some significant emotions around cyberbullying, they also have great potential to create change in online social culture.
Understanding the emotional impact of cyberbullying in teens with ADHD can help to start conversations with them about their interactions with peers, and also be a way to encourage them to be agents of positive change.
By Kristi MacDonald
Heiman, T., Olenik-Shemesh, D., & Eden, S. (2015). Cyberbullying involvement among students with ADHD: Relation to loneliness, self-efficacy and social support. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 30(1), 15-29. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2014.943562