Cyberbullying, Self-Cyberbullying, and Coerced Sexting: Epidemiology and Clinical Correlates

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Objectives: This presentation will discuss data from recent studies, including one of more than 700 teenagers, examining their destructive digital behaviors and the relationship to measures of psychological health and psychological symptoms.

Methods: Qualitative data gathered at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center have identified more methods of cyberbullying than researchers generally explore. Although researchers may ask subjects about cruel comments online, humiliating photos, and mean messages, behaviors such as self-cyberbullying and coerced sexting seem to be important sources of bullying online. Self-cyberbullying, sometimes termed “Digital Munchausen,” refers to youth who create a second persona online for the purposes of cyberbullying themselves; they then bring their “victimization” to the attention of peers in a bid for sympathy and attention. Sexting is often conceptualized as a fun and titillating activity that teenagers engage in voluntarily, but newer data are suggesting that, at times, it may result from negative peer pressure and when that happens, sexters may feel traumatized and harassed. Teenagers between the ages of 17 and 19 years were assessed during both qualitative interviews and quantitative surveys for their psychopathology, their peer relationships, their family functioning, and their digital behaviors. This retrospective study examined the order of events and analyzed the relationship between these more unusual types of cyberbullying with more typical cyberbullying behaviors (such as receiving a cruel message).

Results: Both coerced and pressured sexting and self-cyberbullying were markedly more common than hypothesized. Over three years of data, self-cyberbullying was admitted to be approximately 15 percent of subjects each year. Likewise, whereas many sexters admitted to some peer pressure as the motive or partial motive for sexting, a smaller high-risk group experienced very negative peer pressure, including bullying and threats, and reported significantly higher levels of trauma after the sexting.

Conclusions: Although cyberbullying is a well-known phenomenon today, many assumptions about it seem to be false. This research demonstrates the need to reevaluate conventional assumptions about cyberbullying and digital behaviors.

Original Citation

Englander, E. (2017). Cyberbullying, Self-Cyberbullying, and Coerced Sexting: Epidemiology and Clinical Correlates. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 56(10, supplement), S6. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2017.07.024