Flashman, the archetypal bully from the novel Tom Brown’s School Days, is alive and well in the age of Facebook and Twitter, a study has found
The vast majority of bullies prefer the old tried and trusted methods of hurting their victims to causing pain online, say researchers.
Results of the survey show that less than 1% of 15-year-olds in England regularly experienced cyberbullying on its own.
More than a quarter (27%) suffered exclusive face-to-face bullying.
Nine out of 10 teenagers who were bullied online were also subjected to traditional bullying, the study found.
Concerns have been raised that cyberbullying, which involves repeated personal attacks using instant messaging, social media postings, emails, text messages and websites, could cause more psychological harm than traditional bullying.
Lead researcher Dr Andrew Przybylski, from Oxford University, said: “Despite common perceptions and the growth of the online world for teenagers, our study finds that cyberbullying, on its own, is relatively rare, with face-to-face bullying remaining most common among teenagers.
“Cyberbullying is best understood as a new avenue to victimise those already being bullied in traditional ways, rather than a way to pick on new victims.”
Confidential questionnaires were used to assess bullying and mental well-being among more than 110,000 teenagers across England over a two-month period. Participants represented one in five 15-year-olds in England.
Nearly a third of the teenagers (30%) reported experiencing some form of regular bullying, defined as two or three incidents per month. They included one in three girls and one in four boys.
Bullying encompassed a wide range of actions, including name-calling, hurtful teasing, exclusion, spreading of false rumours, sharing unflattering pictures and physical violence.
Only 2% of the teenagers reported being the victim of physical bullying.
Well-being and levels of life satisfaction declined according to how much individuals were bullied. Teenagers who experienced both traditional and cyberbullying reported the lowest levels of well-being, said the researchers whose findings appear in the journal The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health.
Co-author Professor Lucy Bowes, also from Oxford University, said: “Bullying is a major public health problem, and our findings support the urgent need for interventions that target both forms of bullying in adolescence.
“Initiatives that help teenagers become resilient in everyday and online contexts will be important if we are to help them overcome the negative mental health impacts bullying may have, such as an increased risk of poor mental well-being and lower life satisfaction.”
Commenting in the journal, Professor Dieter Wolke, from the University of Warwick, said that not long ago being bullied was considered a “normal rite of passage”.
He added: “Any intervention to reduce bullying and the adverse mental health effects caused by victimisation must include efforts to reduce traditional bullying.
“This could be by new innovative interventions in schools including online resources and learning or considering approaches involving primary healthcare professionals.
“Furthermore, any study or review of the effects of cyber-victimisation must take into account the effects of traditional bullying.”
In Thomas Hughes’ classic novel Tom Brown’s School Days, the character of Flashman is an arrogant and sadistic bully at Rugby School.