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Introduction: Cyber-victimization is highly prevalent among middle school students. Research has shown that low self-esteem may place adolescents at risk for victimization. However, research has yet to examine mechanisms in which self-esteem is associated with cyber-victimization. The current study examined the role of mental health symptoms in this relationship between self-esteem and cyber-victimization. It was hypothesized that low self-esteem would be associated with cyber-victimization via heightened mental health.
Method: Participants in this study (N = 316) were sixth graders from a large public middle school. Participants completed self-reported questionnaires on self-esteem, mental health symptoms (i.e., depression and anxiety), and cyber-victimization. The study hypothesis was examined using a mediational path analysis.
Results: Students displayed high rates of cyber-victimization (60.8%), low levels of self-esteem (37.6%), and at-risk or clinical levels of depression (44.6%) and anxiety (46.9%). The analysis showed that lower levels of self-esteem were associated with greater levels of anxiety (B = -.530, p < .001) and depression (B = -.999, p < .001). Greater amounts of depressive symptoms were associated with higher levels of cyber-victimization (B = .108, p < .05). Finally, high levels of depressive symptoms fully mediated the relationship between low levels of self-esteem and high levels of cyber-victimization (B = .014, p < .05).
Discussion: These results illustrate that heightened depressive symptoms may make adolescents with low self-esteem more susceptible to cyber-victimization. Middle school administrators and practitioners can utilize these results to incorporate aspects around the promotion of self-esteem and mental health in cyber-victimization prevention programs.