Importance Adolescent suicidality (ie, suicidal ideation or attempts) is a major public health concern. Cyberbullying experiences and perpetration have become increasingly prevalent and are associated with mental health burden, but their roles as independent suicidality risk factors remain unclear. Data are needed to clarify their contribution to teen suicidality to inform suicide prevention efforts.
Objective To examine whether cyberbullying experiences and perpetration are distinct stressors divergent from other forms of peer aggression experiences in their association with suicidality in early adolescence.
Design, Setting, and Participants This cross-sectional analysis used data collected between July 2018 and January 2021 from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study, a large, diverse sample of US children aged 10 to 13 years.
Exposures Youth reports of cyberbullying experiences or perpetration.
Main Outcomes and Measures The main outcome was youth-reported suicidality (past or present, as reported in the ABCD 2-year follow-up assessment). Covariates included demographics, established environmental risk and protective factors for youth suicidality, psychopathology, and experiences or perpetration of offline peer aggression.
Results A total of 10 414 ABCD participants were included in this study. Participants had a mean (SD) age of 12.0 (0.7) years and 4962 (47.6%) were female; 796 (7.6%) endorsed suicidality. A total of 930 (8.9%) reported experiencing cyberbullying and 96 (0.9%) reported perpetrating cyberbullying. Of the perpetrators, 66 (69.0%) also endorsed experiencing cyberbullying. Controlling for demographics, experiencing cyberbullying was associated with suicidality (odds ratio [OR], 4.2 [95% CI, 3.5-5.1]; P < .001), whereas perpetrating cyberbullying was not (OR, 1.3 [95% CI, 0.8-2.3]; P = .30). Experiencing cyberbullying remained associated with suicidality when accounting for negative life events, family conflict, parental monitoring, school environment, and racial and ethnic discrimination (OR, 2.5 [95% CI, 2.0-3.0]; P < .001) and when further covarying for internalizing and externalizing psychopathology (OR, 1.8 [95% CI, 1.4-2.4]; P < .001). Both being a target and being a perpetrator of offline peer aggression were associated with suicidality (OR, 1.5 [95% CI, 1.1-2.0] for both), controlling for all covariates described earlier. Cyberbullying experiences remained associated with suicidality (OR, 1.7 [95% CI, 1.3-2.2]; P < .001, controlling for all covariates) when included with offline peer aggression experiences and perpetration.
Conclusions and Relevance In this cross-sectional study, experiencing—but not perpetrating—cyberbullying was associated with suicidality in early adolescence. This association was significant over and above other suicidality risk factors, including offline peer aggression experiences or perpetration. These findings can inform adolescent suicide prevention strategies, and they suggest that clinicians and educational staff working with this population should routinely evaluate for adolescents’ experience with cyberbullying.