Background Being bullied is a threat to children’s mental wellbeing but there is some evidence that emotional support may buffer children against bullying victimisation. Modern technology has changed the way that children interact, such that cyberbullying is now an additional bullying exposure. We investigated whether bullying and cyberbullying victimisation posed similar threats and whether family and peer support promoted resilience to adverse wellbeing as an outcome.
Methods Data were collected on 5,286 children in grades P7 (Age 11), S2 (Age 13), and S4 (Age 15) from 208 Schools in the 2017/18 Health Behaviour in School Aged Children in Scotland Survey. Resilience was operationalised with statistical interactions between self-reported measures of bullying or cyberbullying victimisation (None/Occasional/Frequent) and family or peer support (Low/Intermediate/High) in the prediction of wellbeing (WHO-5 Wellbeing Index). Analyses were carried out separately by gender with multilevel models, adjusted for sociodemographic factors and school grade, used to generate predictive margins.
Results 14.2% of children were frequently bullied whereas 4.6% were frequently cyberbullied, with 3.1% being both frequently bullied and cyberbullied. Both bullying and cyberbullying had negative relationships with wellbeing. The relationship between cyberbullying and wellbeing was stronger, especially for children who were victims of cyberbullying but not traditional bullying. For example, the adjusted predicted mean WHO-5 scores for girls were as follows: never bullied 58.8(95%CI 57.6–60.0), frequently bullied but not cyberbullied 50.5(95%CI 46.8–54.1) frequently both bullied and cyberbullied 40.5(95%CI 36.2–44.7), and frequently cyberbullied but not bullied 36.2(95%CI 23.1–49.5).
Family support was associated with resilience to the consequences of both bullying and cyberbullying victimisation. For example, among never bullied girls, high family support had a modest relationship with wellbeing, the adjusted predicted mean WHO-5 score was 63.1 (95%CI 61.7–64.4) for girls with high support and 57.4 (95%CI 54.8–60.1) for girls with low support. For frequently bullied girls, family support was much more strongly associated with wellbeing, the adjusted predicted mean WHO-5 score for girls with high support was 56.0(95%CI 52.4–59.6) compared to 38.3(95%CI 31.8–44.8) for those with low family support. Results for boys were similar but the protective associations of family support were reduced. There was no evidence that support from friends was associated with resilience to bullying or cyberbullying.
Conclusion Cyberbullying is not as common as bullying but may pose a greater threat to adolescent wellbeing. Supportive families are associated with resilience among victims of both bullying and cyberbullying.
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