Online Racial Victimization and the Academic Consequences for Teens

Brendesha Tynes

Dr. Brendesha Tynes

By Andrea Bennett

Recent news stories of teen suicides have put cyberbullying and its tragic effects at the forefront of public discourse and awareness. Adolescents, who are some of the most avid users of social media and online spaces, are especially susceptible to online victimization and can be gravely impacted psychologically and academically.

Since 2001, Associate Professor Brendesha Tynes has been researching this troubling and increasingly prevalent behavior and its effects on young people. Currently, with support from a $1.5 million National Institutes of Health grant, she is studying how online victimization impacts the academic performance, mental health and behavior of 6th to 12th graders.

“We know about cyberbullying in general, but we’ve just scratched the surface of understanding how different types of victimization, including race-related experiences, impact developing adolescents,” she said.

Tynes and colleagues have developed a scale to measure types of online victimization – from sexual harassment to racial discrimination to bullying, and are examining resources that might buffer the negative impact of online victimization on teens.

Among the study’s preliminary findings is that teens who are victims of general and sexual harassment online perform worse in science than teens who are not victimized. Her team has also found that total GPA is lower among youth who have these experiences.

She also found that for Black and Latino youth who are direct targets of discrimination online, these experiences are associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. This is not the case for white youth, likely because they are victimized because of their race less frequently than other groups and racial-ethnic groups experience discrimination online differently. For example, though more than 30 percent of all youth reported being shown a racist image, most of these images include Blacks and Latinos.

Tynes aims to use her research to develop intervention and prevention programs for youth who experience online racial victimization. Adolescents can be easy targets for cloaked hate sites, for example, because they do not critically examine online content and recognize propaganda or other questionable sources as well as adults do, she said.

“I’m hoping that, because many Internet safety and antibullying programs don’t really address race, we can develop interventions to help youth protect themselves, and give them coping and antiracist strategies to use,” Tynes said. “We need more programs to help youth counter the negative messages they’re getting about racial groups.”

This article was featured in the June, 2013 Issue of Rossier Reach