Not all bullying is equal, according to a new study, with the old-fashioned, real-life variety more damaging than the cyber kind. A combination of both, however, could be the real danger to kids.
Researchers from the University of New Hampshire analyzed interviews with 791 people (ages 10 to 20) who had taken part in a previous harassment survey. They looked at three types of bullying: face-to-face, technology only, and a mix of the two.
The study, published on Wednesday by the American Psychological Association, found that youths were more distressed when bullied by peers in real life than through technology. About 65 percent of digital bullying happened via text message and 53 percent took place over a social media site.
With technology, kids reported that they felt more in control when it came to ending their harassment, and the study found that those bullying incidents were less likely to be repeated and less likely to involve multiple perpetrators.
And while parents might freak out about strangers embarrassing their kids online, the respondents preferred being bullied by strangers through technology to being harassed by people they knew in real life.
Overall, the study suggests that online bullying could be less harmful than face-to-face bullying. But combining the two produced the worst results of all.
Compared to technology-only bulling, mixed incidents were more likely to involve people who knew embarrassing things about the victim, last for a month or longer, and become violent.
"I got in a fight last year and people keep posting it on Facebook," a 15-year-old girl told researchers. "The comments made on there are ridiculously rude. I get cut down and called fat, told fat people should not fight a skinny person, that I should be ashamed of myself."
Mixed harassment was also worse than simply being bullied at school or work, because it made people feel like they couldn't escape their perpetrators, as they received nasty messages through their phones and while they were home online.
"It is these mixed episodes that appear to be the most distressing to youth," Kimberly J. Mitchell, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. "We believe that focusing on harassment incidents that involve both in-person and technology elements should be a priority for educators and prevention experts who are trying to identify and prevent the most serious and harmful bullying."