Bullying, Cyberbullying, Depression and Suicide Ideation among Youth: Comparing Online to Paper-and-Pencil Questionnaires

By Shpiegel, Yonatan; Klomek, Anat Brunstein et al. | International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Bullying, Cyberbullying, Depression and Suicide Ideation among Youth: Comparing Online to Paper-and-Pencil Questionnaires


Shpiegel, Yonatan, Klomek, Anat Brunstein, Apter, Alan, International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health


Introduction

Bullying, cyberbullying, depression and suicide ideation are major concerns regarding adolescents, particularly given that suicide is the third leading cause of death among American adolescents (1). Moreover, depression and suicide ideation are risk factors for suicide completion (1) as studies show that roughly 1 out of 8 adolescents suffered from depression (2) and 15.8% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide (3).

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2011, 20% of high school students reported being bullied and 16% reported being cyberbullied during the past 12 months (4). Most of the data for the research on bullying/cyberbullying and depression/suicide ideation among youth has been collected using classical paper-and-pencil self-report questionnaires. This method is expensive, complicated and time consuming; and therefore researchers are turning to more cost-effective alternatives (5). With the growing ubiquity of Internet access (6), an increasing number of researchers are finding ways to utilize the Internet in order to conduct research in their fields. Research on bullying/cyberbullying and depression/suicide ideation is no exception. Recent studies in this field have started collecting data using web-based questionnaires (7, 8). In order to safely advance from paper-and-pencil to web-based research in this field, it is important to systematically compare the two.

The advantages of conducting web-based research are plentiful. Firstly, it provides access to larger and more diverse samples. In addition, data entry in web-based research is done indirectly by participants themselves (9). Lastly, it has been said to provide a heightened sense of anonymity (10) which is considered advantageous, as it encourages honesty when touching sensitive topics (11). However, this heightened sense of anonymity is becoming increasingly harder to assume. People are becoming more knowledgeable about the potential for infringing on anonymity in cyberspace. Therefore, this may theoretically interfere in truthful self-reporting.

The great advantages and promise that web-based research brings does not come without a price. Samples are still confined to participants who own a computer and have Internet access (12). In addition, recruitment techniques, such as advertising in blogs, forums, or web-sites, make it very difficult to achieve a random sample (13). Furthermore, participants are not in a controlled environment during the experiment, it is impossible to verify demographic information, it is difficult to estimate response rates, and finally, with no experimenter watching over participants, ethical problems may arise (13).

Many studies have compared data that were obtained online against data obtained in the lab and have mostly supported the notion that the quality of data (e.g., sample diverseness, responders seriousness, etc.), obtained online is as good as, if not better, than data obtained in the lab (14). Studies comparing data collected using web-based questionnaires and paper-and-pencil questionnaires on potentially sensitive personal matters drew the same conclusion (15). Computer based surveys may be preferable when targeting sensitive issues as the sense of anonymity increases and social desirability (i.e., a tendency to answer questionnaires in a socially acceptable or favorably viewed way) decreases (15,16). Furthermore, web-based questionnaires have been shown to reliably detect depressive disorders (17) and other mental disorders (18).

Comparing data collection methods among adolescents is necessary for several reasons. First, the popularity of web-based research among adolescents is rising as conducting paper-based research consumes important school time which is also very hard to obtain. Second, adolescents are growing up surrounded by web-based interfaces and spend more time in front of screens, now more than ever (19). For adolescents, answering web-based questionnaires might be becoming more natural than the paper-based alternative. …

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