Cyberbullying affects girls more than boys - putting them off school and raising the risk of truancy, according to new research.
Being involved in the modern life scourge - either as perpetrators, victims or both - makes them feel less accepted by their peers, while boys are more able to brush it off.
And this has a knock on effect, spilling over into how important they felt school and learning were, the study found.
With boys, just those who had been a bully as well as a victim, had the same negative attitude.
It follows a government survey that found girls are twice as likely to be ‘cyberbullied’, in which youngsters use technology to harass peers, than boys.
Psychologist Dr Lucy Betts, of Nottingham Trent University, said: “With the increasing amount of time they spend using digital technology, young people are at great risk of being involved in cyberbullying - as a victim, bully, or both.
“In the past, bullying experiences were often confined to school and would end with the school day.
“Despite cyberbullying occurring outside the school environment, however, we know that its impact is likely to spill over into school - and this is particularly the case for young women.”
Harmful emails, compromising videos
It can take a variety of forms from leaving harmful emails and texts to spreading unchecked gossip online and share compromising, humiliating or unflattering photos or videos.
Other examples include making harmful or sexually aggressive remarks on social media accounts, setting up fake profiles and breaking into email to send damaging messages.
Previous research has suggested the affects of bullying can last a lifetime, increasing the risk of depression and lowering a person’s quality of life.
The latest study published in the journal Sex Roles said the sending and receiving of offensive, threatening, derogatory and often victimising content on social media is on the rise among young people.
It said cyberbullying can be extremely damaging and cause a great deal of stress for young people given its potential to occur around the clock.
To analyse its effects Dr Betts and colleagues got 345 boys and girls aged 11 to 15 to complete questionnaires about cyberbullying involvement over the last three months.
Perceived acceptance by peers and perception of the importance of school and learning were also measured.
Cyberbullied and unaccepted
The researchers found that females who reported the highest levels of involvement in cyberbullying felt the least accepted.
This perception of their peers then predicted how they felt about school and learning generally.
In terms of males, only boys who had been involved in cyberbullying as both bully and victim felt more negatively about school and learning, the study found.
Females who felt the least accepted felt more negatively about school and learning, while those who felt more accepted were more positive.
The more acceptance girls received from the peers, the more likely they were to shrug off the effects of cyberbullying and enjoy school.
The less likely they were to participate in virtual attacks. This finding contributes to a growing body of evidence about how involvement in cyberbullying undermines young people’s peer relationships.
Dr Betts said: “Our findings highlight that stressors outside the school grounds can have a negative impact on how young women perceive school.
“This is worrying, as previous studies have shown that young people who experience cyberbullying are more likely to avoid school.
“Our work also contributes to the growing evidence that involvement in cyberbullying undermines peer relationships and highlights the importance of these relationships upon attitudes towards learning and school for young women.”
She said although cyberbullying typically occurs outside school, up to a third of young people report that it affects them there.
Many victims report they are afraid to go to school, and this can lead to truancy. It also results in them feeling less safe.
Dr Betts said: “Our increasing connectivity, the rapidly evolving digital world, and the pervasiveness of technology have together transformed face-to-face bullying in to a new form: cyber bullying.”
She said earlier research reported half of males who experience cyberbullying said they were ‘only a little bit upset’ and face-to-face bullying is worse.
Finding it less distressful may make it less likely to spill over into school for young men who are exclusively victims and bullies, explained Dr Betts.
Added Dr Betts: “The current findings may also reflect gender differences in how young people engage with digital technology.
“Although females may be more likely to use digital technology to maintain friendships and gain self esteem, the benefits for males communicating via digital technology with their friends are higher than they are for females.
“Given the spillover we identified for young women who fulfil all cyberbullying roles and for young men who are bully/victims, tackling involvement in cyber bullying may go some way to ameliorate its negative effects.”
A Department of Health questionnaire found nearly two in 10 girls and one in 10 boys had been a victim of cyberbullying in 2014,
Girls were twice as likely as boys to think they were ‘too fat’ with almost half of females believing this, compared to 23 per cent of boys,
Double the number of girls also reported low levels of ‘life satisfaction’ with 19 per cent and 9 per cent, respectively.