1 in 4 adolescents have been cyberbullied, StatCan says
A new StatCan report says one in four adolescents in Canada have been cyberbullied and it's taking a toll on their mental health. A Statistics Canada sign is shown in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Nicole Ireland, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, September 20, 2023 3:18PM EDT
TORONTO - One in four adolescents in Canada have been cyberbullied and it's taking a toll on their mental health, a new Statistics Canada report says.
Youth who have been victimized online are at increased risk of depression, anxiety, eating disorder symptoms, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts, according to the study published on Wednesday.
It also found that transgender and non-binary youth, as well as females attracted to other females, are at higher risk of being cyberbullied.
“Targeted victimization specifically related to adolescents' sexual orientation and gender identity is common and may be particularly detrimental to LGBTQ adolescents' mental health,” the report said.
Adolescents living with chronic health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, autism spectrum disorder and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder are also at higher risk for cyberbullying, especially if they live in low-income households.
“Several reasons for this vulnerability have been proposed (in previous research), the report said.
“The daily management required by many conditions, as well as activity limitations for some youth, may, for example, set youth apart from their peers and confer a social disadvantage.”
The report assessed responses from 13,602 adolescents between 12 and 17 years old, as well as their parents, in the 2019 Canadian Health Survey on Children and Youth.
It found that 24.6 per cent of the adolescents had been cybervictimized at least once in the past year.
The rate of cyberbullying could be even higher than that, said Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
Hamilton and her colleagues conducted a survey of Ontario youth in Grades 7 through 12 in 2021, which found 30 per cent of the adolescents reported being cyberbullied in the past year.
That was an increase from about 22 per cent in previous years, she said, noting the COVID-19 pandemic was a likely factor as kids and teens spent much more time online than they had before.
“One of the things I think it's important to remember is that we also find associations between frequency of social media use and cyberbullying,” Hamilton said, noting that youth also suffered increased psychological distress, anxiety and depression during the pandemic.
New studies with more recent data are needed to determine if the rate of cyberbullying has continued or increased since 2021, or if it's decreased with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, she said.
“It could go (in) either direction. It's about whether or not people are still maintaining those habits from during the pandemic.”
One of the issues with cyberbullying compared to in-person bullying at school is “the audience is so much greater and wider,” Hamilton said.
“It's hard to get away from cyberbullying. You know, you can walk out of a school and then not see that person until the next day if it's face to face,” she said.
“But cyberbullying, you have your phone and it follows you around.”
Hamilton said the study findings highlight the importance of parents being aware of what kids are doing online and having open discussions about online activities and experiences.
Although Statistics Canada considers its survey generally representative of children and youth across Canada, one limitation is that it didn't reach First Nations adolescents living on reserves or youth living in foster homes or institutions, said Mila Kingsbury, a StatCan analyst who co-authored the report.
That's because the participants were recruited from the pool of people receiving the Canada Child Benefit, which covers the majority of families with children, she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2023.